Atomic levers control pyranose ring conformations
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Atomic force microscope manipulations of single polysaccharide molecules have recently expanded conformational chemistry to include force-driven transitions between the chair and boat conformers of the pyranose ring structure. We now expand these observations to include chair inversion, a common phenomenon in the conformational chemistry of six-membered ring molecules. We demonstrate that by stretching single pectin molecules (1 -> 4-linked a-D-galactouronic acid polymer), we could change the pyranose ring conformation from a chair to a boat and then to an inverted chair in a clearly resolved two-step conversion: 4C1 -><- boat -><- 1C4. The two-step extension of the distance between the glycosidic oxygen atoms O1 and O4 determined by atomic force microscope manipulations is corroborated by ab initio calculations of the increase in length of the residue vector O1O4 on chair inversion. We postulate that this conformational change results from the torque generated by the glycosidic bonds when a force is applied to the pectin molecule. Hence, the glycosidic bonds act as mechanical levers, driving the conformational transitions of the pyranose ring. When the glycosidic bonds are equatorial (e), the torque is zero, causing no conformational change. However, when the glycosidic bond is axial (a), torque is generated, causing a rotation around COC bonds and a conformational change. This hypothesis readily predicts the number of transitions observed in pyranose monomers with 1a-4a linkages (two), 1a-4e (one), and 1e-4e (none). Our results demonstrate single-molecule mechanochemistry with the capability of resolving complex conformational transitions.