A new experimental approach has been developed to study the distribution of local electrostatic potential around specific protons in biologically important molecules. The approach is the development of a method denoted as 'spin label/spin probe,' which was proposed by one of us (Likhtenshtein et al., 1972. Mol. Biol. 6:498-507). The proposed method is based upon the quantitative measurement of the contribution of differently charged nitroxide probes to the spin lattice relaxation rate (1/T1) of protons in the molecule of interest, followed by calculation of local electrostatic potential using the classical Debye equation. In parallel, the theoretical calculation of potential distribution with the use of the MacSpartan Plus 1.0 program has been performed. Application of the method to solutions of simple organic molecules (aliphatic and aromatic alcohols, aliphatic carboxylates (propionate anion), and protonated ethyl amine and imidazole) allowed us to estimate the effective potential around the molecules under investigation. These were found to be in good agreement with theoretically expected values. This technique was then applied to zwitterionic amino acids bearing neutral and charged side chains (glycine, lysine, histidine, and aspartic acid). The reliability of the general approach is proved by the data presented in this paper. Application of this new methodology can afford insight into the biochemical significance of electrostatic effects in biological systems.
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