Solution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a powerful technique for analyzing three-dimensional structure and dynamics of macromolecules at atomic resolution. Recent advances have exploited the unique properties of NMR in exchanging systems to detect, characterize and visualize excited sparsely populated states of biological macromolecules and their complexes, which are only transient. These states are invisible to conventional biophysical techniques, and play a key role in many processes, including molecular recognition, protein folding, enzyme catalysis, assembly and fibril formation. All the NMR techniques make use of exchange between sparsely populated NMR-invisible and highly populated NMR-visible states to transfer a magnetization property from the invisible state to the visible one where it can be easily detected and quantified. There are three classes of NMR experiments that rely on differences in distance, chemical shift or transverse relaxation (molecular mass) between the NMR-visible and -invisible species. Here, I illustrate the application of these methods to unravel the complex mechanism of sub-millisecond pre-nucleation oligomerization of the N-terminal region of huntingtin, encoded by exon-1 of the huntingtin gene, where CAG expansion leads to Huntington's disease, a fatal autosomal-dominant neurodegenerative condition. I also discuss how inhibition of tetramerization blocks the much slower (by many orders of magnitude) process of fibril formation.

You do not currently have access to this content.