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The susceptibility of disulfide bonds to modification in keratin fibers undergoing tensile stress

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 19:26 authored by Duane HarlandDuane Harland, Crisan Popescu, Marina RichenaMarina Richena, Santanu Deb-Choudhury, Claudia Wichlatz, Erin LeeErin Lee, Jeffrey Plowman
Cysteine residues perform a dual role in mammalian hairs. The majority help stabilize the overall assembly of keratins and their associated proteins, but a proportion of inter-molecular disulfide bonds are assumed to be associated with hair mechanical flexibility. Hair cortical microstructure is hierarchical, with a complex macro-molecular organization resulting in arrays of intermediate filaments at a scale of micrometres. Intermolecular disulfide bonds occur within filaments and between them and the surrounding matrix. Wool fibers provide a good model for studying various contributions of differently situated disulfide bonds to fiber mechanics. Within this context, it is not known if all intermolecular disulfide bonds contribute equally, and, if not, then do the disproportionally involved cysteine residues occur at common locations on proteins? In this study, fibers from Romney sheep were subjected to stretching or to their breaking point under wet or dry conditions to detect, through labeling, disulfide bonds that were broken more often than randomly. We found that some cysteines were labeled more often than randomly and that these vary with fiber water content (water disrupts protein-protein hydrogen bonds). Many of the identified cysteine residues were located close to the terminal ends of keratins (head or tail domains) and keratin-associated proteins. Some cysteines in the head and tail domains of type II keratin K85 were labeled in all experimental conditions. When inter-protein hydrogen bonds were disrupted under wet conditions, disulfide labeling occurred in the head domains of type II keratins, likely affecting keratin-keratin-associated protein interactions, and tail domains of the type I keratins, likely affecting keratin-keratin interactions. In contrast, in dry fibers (containing more protein-protein hydrogen bonding), disulfide labeling was also observed in the central domains of affected keratins. This central “rod” region is associated with keratin-keratin interactions between anti-parallel heterodimers in the tetramer of the intermediate filament.


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Journal title

Biophysical Journal




Harland, D. P., Popescu, C., Richena, M., Deb-Choudhury, S., Wichlatz, C., Lee, E., & Plowman, J. E. (2022). The susceptibility of disulfide bonds to modification in keratin fibers undergoing tensile stress. Biophysical Journal, 121(11), 2168-2179.

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