How proteins trigger excitation energy transfer in the FMO complex of green sulfur bacteria

Julia Adolphs, Thomas Renger
Biophysical Journal 2006 October 15, 91 (8): 2778-97
A simple electrostatic method for the calculation of optical transition energies of pigments in protein environments is presented and applied to the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) complex of Prosthecochloris aestuarii and Chlorobium tepidum. The method, for the first time, allows us to reach agreement between experimental optical spectra and calculations based on transition energies of pigments that are calculated in large part independently, rather than fitted to the spectra. In this way it becomes possible to understand the molecular mechanism allowing the protein to trigger excitation energy transfer reactions. The relative shift in excitation energies of the seven bacteriochlorophyll-a pigments of the FMO complex of P. aestuarii and C. tepidum are obtained from calculations of electrochromic shifts due to charged amino acids, assuming a standard protonation pattern of the protein, and by taking into account the three different ligand types of the pigments. The calculations provide an explanation of some of the earlier results for the transition energies obtained from fits of optical spectra. In addition, those earlier fits are verified here by using a more advanced theory of optical spectra, a genetic algorithm, and excitonic couplings obtained from electrostatic calculations that take into account the influence of the dielectric protein environment. The two independent calculations of site energies strongly favor one of the two possible orientations of the FMO trimer relative to the photosynthetic membrane, which were identified by electron microscopic studies and linear dichroism experiments. Efficient transfer of excitation energy to the reaction center requires bacteriochlorophylls 3 and 4 to be the linker pigments. The temporal and spatial transfer of excitation energy through the FMO complex is calculated to proceed along two branches, with transfer times that differ by an order of magnitude.

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