In humid samples of trehalose-coated carboxy-myoglobin (MbCO), thermally driven conformational relaxation takes place after photodissociation of the carbon monoxide (CO) molecule at room temperature. In such samples, because of the extreme viscosity of the external matrix, photodissociated CO cannot diffuse out of the protein and explores the whole (proximal and distal side) heme pocket, experiencing averaged protein heme pocket structures, as a results of the presence of Brownian motions. At variance, in very dry samples, a lower portion of the photodissociated CO diffuses from the distal to the proximal heme pocket side probing in nonaveraged structures. We revisit here the flash photolysis data by Librizzi et al. (2002) and report on new, room temperature experiments in MbCO-trehalose samples, shortly illuminated prior the laser pulse. In dry samples, pre-illumination increased the diffusion of CO from the distal to the proximal heme pocket side, which resulted in less structure than in non-pre-illuminated samples. Such an effect, which is absent in humid samples, stems from a decoupling of the protein internal degrees of freedom from those of the external water-sugar matrix. We suggest that such a decoupling can be brought about by the continuous attempts performed by the protein during pre-illumination to undergo relaxation toward the photodissociated deoxy state. This, in turn, causes a collapse in the hydrogen bond network, which connects the protein surface to the water-sugar matrix, as reported by Cottone et al. (2002) and Giuffrida et al. (2003). In the conclusion section, we discuss the possible involvement of the processes invoked to rationalize the present data, in the function of macromolecules and interactions in living cells.
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