Possible role of helix-coil transitions in the microscopic mechanism of muscle contraction
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Local helix-coil transitions in the coiled coil portion of myosin have long been implicated as a possible origin of tension generation in muscle. From a statistical mechanical theory of conformational transitions in coiled coils, the free energy required to form a randomly coiled bubble in the hinge region of myosin of the type conjectured by Harrington (Harrington, W. F., 1979, Proc. Natl. A cad. Sci. USA, 76:5066-5070) is estimated to be -25 kcal/mol. Unfortunately this is far more than the free energy available from ATP hydrolysis if the crossbridges operate independently. Thus, in solution such bubbles are predicted to be absent, and the theory requires that the rod portion of myosin be a hingeless, continuously deforming rod. While such bubble formation in vivo cannot be entirely ruled out, it appears to be unlikely. We further conjecture that in solution the swivel located between myosin subfragments 1 and 2 (S-2 and S-I) is due to a locally random conformation of the chains caused by the presence of a proline residue at the point that physically separates the coiled coil from the globular portion of myosin. On attachment of S-I to actin in the strong binding state, the configurational entropy of the random coil in the swivel region is greatly reduced relative to the case where the ends are free. This produces a spontaneous coil-to-helix transition in the swivel region that causes rotation of S-I and the translation of actin. Thus, the model predicts that the actin filaments are pushed rather than pulled past the thick filaments by the crossbridges. The specific mechanism of force generation is examined in detail, and a simple statistical mechanical realization of the model is proposed. We find that the model gives a substantial number of qualitative and at times quantitative predictions in accord with experiment, and is particularly appealing in that it provides a simple means of free energy transduction-the well known fact that topological constraints shift the equilibrium between helical and random coil states.