Olga Gursky, Ph.D.

William J. Lehman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics

M.S., Moscow State University
Ph.D., Brandeis University

Phone: (617) 638-7894
Fax: (617) 638-4041
E-mail: gursky@bu.edu
Address: see below
Link to BU Faculty Profile
Link to ORCID


Protein Folding, Structure and Stability

Analysis of the energetic-structure-function relationship and folding pathways in proteins and peptides by circular dichroism spectroscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, fluorescence, x-ray crystallography, and site-directed mutagenesis.

The on-going NIH-funded work is aimed at understanding the energetic and structural basis for the conformational plasticity of apolipoproteins. These are protein constituents of lipoproteins that mediate lipid transport and metabolism and are central in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, stroke, and certain forms of amyloidosis. Apolipoproteins are distinct in their structural adaptability to various lipoprotein particles and to plasma. We try to understand in molecular detail the energetic and structural basis for this adaptability.

A major focus of our research is on the molecular mechanisms of lipoprotein stabilization and fusion. In 2002 we revealed that lipoprotein stability is determined by kinetic barriers. Similar barriers may modulate in-vivo lipoprotein transformations. Our goal is to obtain key molecular determinants for these energy barriers.

Overview of Earlier Work on Plasma Apolipoproteins (collaboration with Professor David Atkinson)

The CD spectroscopic and calorimetric analyses of the origins of the structural adaptability in human apoA-1, apoA-2, and apoC-1, supported by other studies, showed that lipid-free apolipoproteins have energetic and structural characteristics of compact protein folding intermediates, with substantial α-helical content but lax tertiary structures. We propose that the exchangeable apolipoproteins may represent a new class of proteins that perform their major physiological function, namely lipid binding, via the molten globule-like state. This laxly folded state may also facilitate the amyloid fibril formation by apolipoproteins.

On-going Projects

Structural and thermodynamic analysis of human apolipoprotein C-1

To advance the energetic-structure-function analysis of apolipoproteins to a level of individual amino acids, we use the smallest human apolipoprotein C-1 (6kD). The sequence homology, secondary structural, and functional similarity of apoC-1 and larger apolipoproteins make it an attractive model system. We analyzed solution structure of apolipoprotein C-1 (apoC-1, 6.6 kD) by circular dichroism of its fifteen mutants containing single Pro or Ala substitutions in the predicted α-helical regions. The results suggest that apoC-1 molecule in solution comprises two dynamic helices connected by a short linker containing residues 30-33 and stabilized by interhelical interactions. We propose that the minimal folding unit in this and other exchangeable apolipoproteins comprises helix-turn-helix formed of four 11-mer sequence repeats and stabilized by interhelical interactions. Comparison of the helical content in lipid-free and lipid-bound apoC-1 suggests that lipid binding shifts the conformational equilibrium towards pre-existing highly helical conformation. Remarkably, near-UV CD spectra of wild type and mutant apoC-1 are not significantly altered upon thermal or chemical unfolding, and thus result from residual aromatic clustering. Correlation of far- and near-UV CD of the mutant peptides suggests that the hydrophobic cluster containing W41 is essential for the helical stability and may form helix nucleation site in apoC-1.

Early folding intermediates of Alzheimer’s amyloid A-beta(1-40) peptide.

Such folding intermediates are implicated to be pathogenic and may provide potential therapeutic targets against Alzheimer’s disease. We used CD spectroscopy and gel electrophoresis to correlate the effects of temperature and peptide concentration on the peptide conformation in water. We detected a rapid reversible heat-induced coil to β-strand transition in Aβ(1-40) that is independent of the peptide concentration and thus is not coupled to aggregation. This is the first observation of the β-strand folding in Aβ that may occur in the Aβ(1-40) monomer or dimer. Our results demonstrate the importance of temperature and thermal history for the Aβ conformation in aqueous solution.

Molecular Mechanism of Lipoprotein Stabilization

Lipid-protein association increases the helical content in apolipoproteins and reduces their susceptibility to chemical and thermal denaturation and proteolysis, but the mechanism of this stabilization in unclear. Our spectroscopic and electron microscopic studies have shown that, contrary to the widely held assumption, lipoprotein stability is determined by kinetic rather than thermodynamic factors. We demonstrated that high kinetic barriers for lipoprotein denaturation arise from the particle fusion that accompanies apolipoprotein unfolding and thereby compensates for the solvent exposure of the apolar lipid moieties. Based on our kinetic analyses of discoidal and spherical HDL, we propose that the kinetic mechanism provides a universal natural strategy for lipoprotein stabilization that reconciles the requirements for structural stability and heterogeneity of lipoproteins, prevents spontaneous lipoprotein interconversions, and regulates lipoprotein functions and lifetime in plasma. In the on-going work, we use circular dichroism and fluorescence spectroscopy, light scattering, and electron microscopy in conjunction with protein mutagenesis to gain a detailed understanding of the protein and lipid contributions to the kinetic barriers that define lipoprotein stability.

Selected Publications

Full list of publications on PubMed

1. Gursky O.., Mei X., Atkinson D. (2011) Crystal structure of the C-terminal truncated apolipoprotein A-I sheds new light on the amyloid formation by the N-terminal segment. Biochemistry (in press).

2. Jayaraman S., Cavigiolio G., Gursky O. (2011) Folded functional lipid-poor apolipoprotein A-I obtained by heating of high-density lipoproteins: Relevance to HDL biogenesis Biochem. J. (in press).

3. Jayaraman S., Jasuja R., Zakharov M., Gursky O. (2011) Pressure perturbation calorimetry of lipoproteins reveals an endothermic transition without detectable volume changes: Implications for apolipoprotein adsorption to phospholipid surface. Biochemistry 50(19):3919-27. PMID: 21452855, PMCID in process.

4. Guha M., Gursky O. (2011) Human plasma very low-density lipoproteins are stabilized by electrostatic interactions and destabilized by acidic pH. J. Lipids, Special Issue: Lipids and Lipoproteins in Atherosclerosis, 2011:493720 (Open access journal) PMID: 21773050 PMCID in process

5. Jayaraman S., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. (2011) Effects of phospholipase A2 and its products on structural stability of human low-density lipoprotein: Relevance to formation of LDL-derived lipid droplets. J Lipid Res. 52(3):549-557. PMID: 21220788, PMCID: PMC3035691.

6. Klimtchuk E.S., Gursky O., Patel R.S., Laporte K.L., Connors L.H., Skinner M., Seldin D.C. (2010) The critical role of the constant region in thermal stability and aggregation of immunoglobulin light chain. Biochemistry 49(45):9848-9857. PMID: 20936823 (PMCID in process).

7. Guha M., Gursky O. (2010) Effects of oxidation on structural stability and remodeling of human plasma very low-density lipoprotein. Biochemistry 49 (44): 9584–9593. PMID: 20919745.

8. Benjwal S., Gursky O. (2010) Pressure perturbation calorimetry of apolipoproteins in solution and in model lipoproteins. Proteins. 78(5): 1175-1185. PMID: 19927327. PMCID: PMC2822151

9. Jayaraman S., Benjwal S., Gantz D. L., Gursky O. (2010) Effects of cholesterol on thermal stability of discoidal high-density lipoproteins. J. Lipid Res. 51(2): 324-333. PMID: 19700415. PMCID: PMC2803234

10. Gao X, Yuan, S., Jayaraman, S., Gursky O. (2009) Differential stability of high-density lipoprotein subclasses: Effects of particle size and protein composition. J. Mol. Biol. 387(3): 628-638. PMID: 19236880, PMC2706704.

11. Guha M., Gao X., Jayaraman, S., Gursky O. (2008) Structural stability and functional remodeling of high-density lipoproteins: The importance of being disordered. Biochemistry 47(44): 11393–11397.

12. Guha M., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. (2008) Effect of fatty acyl chain length, unsaturation and pH on the stability of discoidal high-density lipoproteins. J. Lipid Res. 49(8): 1752-1761.

13. Jayaraman S., Gantz, D.L., Gursky, O. (2008) Effects of protein oxidation on the structure and stability of model discoidal high-density lipoproteins. Biochemistry 47(12): 3875-3882.

14. Gao X., Jayaraman S., Gursky O. (2008) Mild oxidation promotes and advanced oxidation prevents protein dissociation and remodeling of human plasma high-density lipoprotein in vitro. J. Mol. Biol. 376(4): 997-1007.

15. Guha M., England C.O., Herscovitz H., Gursky O. (2007) Thermal transitions in human very low-density lipoprotein: Fusion, rupture and dissociation of HDL-like particles. Biochemistry 46(20): 6043-6049.

16. Jayaraman S., Gantz, D.L., Gursky O. (2007) Effects of oxidation on the structure and stability of human low-density lipoprotein. Biochemistry 46(19): 5790-5797.

17. Benjwal S., Jayaraman S., Gursky O. (2007) Role of secondary structure in protein-phospholipid surface interactions: reconstitution and denaturation of apolipoprotein C-I:DMPC complexes. Biochemistry 46(13): 4184-4194.

18. Gursky O. (2007) Does α-helix folding necessarily provide an energy source for the lipid binding? Protein Peptide Letters 14(2): 171-174.

19. Jayaraman S., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. (2006) Effects of salt on thermal stability of human plasma high-density lipoproteins. Biochemistry 45: 4620-4628.

20. Benjwal S., Verma S., Röhm K. H., Gursky O. (2006) Monitoring protein aggregation during thermal unfolding in circular dichroism experiments Protein Science 15: 635-639.

21. Benjwal S., Jayaraman S. Gursky O. (2005) Electrostatic effects on the kinetic stability of model discoidal high-density lipoproteins. Biochemistry 44:10218-10226.

22. Gursky O. (2005) Apolipoprotein structure and dynamics. Curr. Opin. Lipidol. 16(3): 287-294.

23. Chung C. M., Chiu J. D., Connors L. H., Gursky O., Lim A., Dykstra A. B., Liepnieks J., Benson M.D., Costello C. E., Skinner M., and Walsh M. T. (2005) Thermodynamic Stability of a Aβ Immunoglobulin Light Chain: Relevance to Multiple Myeloma. Biophys. J. 88: 4232-4242.

24. Jayaraman S., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. (2005) Kinetic stabilization and fusion of discoidal lipoproteins containing human apoA-2 and DMPC: Comparison with apoA-1 and apoC-1. Biophys. J. 88: 2907-2918.

25. Jayaraman S., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. (2005) Structural basis for thermal stability of human low-density lipoprotein. Biochemistry 44(10): 3965-3971.

26. Jayaraman S., Gantz D.L., Gursky O. 2004. Poly(ethylene glycol)-induced fusion and destabilization of human high-density lipoproteins. Biochemistry 43: 5520-5531.

27. Mehta R., Gantz D. L., Gursky O. 2003. Effects of mutations on the reconstitution and kinetic stability of discoidal lipoproteins. Biochemistry 42: 4751-4758.

28. Fang Y., Gursky O., Atkinson D. 2003. Lipid binding studies of human apolipoprotein A-1 and its terminally truncated mutants. Biochemistry 42(45): 13260-13268.

29. Fang Y., Gursky O., Atkinson D. 2003. Effects of the N- and C-terminal deletions on the structure and stability of human apolipoprotein A-1. Biochemistry 42(22): 6881-6890.

30. Mehta R., Gantz D. L., Gursky O. 2003. Human plasma high-density lipoproteins are stabilized by kinetic factors J. Mol. Biol. 328(1): 183-192.

31. Gursky O., Ranjana, Gantz D. L. 2002. Complex of human apolipoprotein C-1 with phospholipid: Thermodynamic or kinetic stability? Biochemistry 41: 7373-7384.

32. Gursky O. 2001. Solution conformation of human apolipoprotein C-1 inferred from Pro mutagenesis: Far- and near-UV CD study. Biochemistry 40: 12178-12185.

33. Gorshkova I. N., Liadaki K., Gursky O., Atkinson D., Zannis V. I. 2000. Probing the solution structure of apolipoprotein A-1 by mutations, circular dichroism, and fluorescence spectroscopy, Biochemistry 39(51): 15910-15919.

34. Gursky O., Aleshkov S. 2000. Temperature-dependent β-sheet formation in Alzheimer’s amyloid Aβ1-40 peptide: Uncoupling β-structure folding from aggregation. Biochim. Biophys. Acta – Protein Struct. Enzymol. 1436(1): 93-102.

35. Gursky O. 1999. Probing the conformation of human apolipoprotein C-1 by point mutations and trimethyamine-N-oxide. Protein Science 8(10): 2055-2064.

36. Gursky O., Atkinson D. 1998. Thermodynamic analysis of human plasma apolipoprotein C-1: High-temperature unfolding and low-temperature oligomer dissociation. Biochemistry 37(5): 1283-1291.

37. Gursky O., Atkinson D. 1996. High- and low-temperature unfolding of human high-density apolipoprotein A-2. Protein Science 5 (9): 1874-1882.

38. Gursky O., Atkinson D. 1996. Thermal unfolding of human high-density apolipoprotein A-1: Implications for a lipid-free molten globular state. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93: 2991-2995.

39. Gursky O., Fontano E., Bhyravbhatla B., Caspar D. L. D. 1994. Stereospecific dihaloalkane binding in a pH-sensitive cavity in cubic insulin crystals. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 91: 12388-12392.

40. Badger J., Kapulsky A., Gursky O., Bhyravbhatla B., Caspar D. L. D. 1994. Structure and selectivity of a monovalent cation binding site in cubic insulin. Biophys. J. 66: 286-292.

41. Gursky O., Badger J., Li Y., Caspar D. L. D. 1992. Conformational changes in cubic insulin crystals in the pH range 7-11. Biophys. J. 63: 1210-1220.

42. Gursky O., Y. Li, J. Badger, D. L. D. Caspar. 1992. Monovalent cation binding to cubic insulin crystals. Biophys. J. 61: 604-611.

43. Lvov Yu. M., Gurskaja O. B., Berzina T. S., Troitsky V. I. 1989. Structure of Langmuir-Blodgett superlattices with alternative bilayers of barium behenate, phtalocyanine, and octadecylethylenphenole. Thin Solid Films 182: 283-296.

44. Lvov Yu. M., Gurskaya O. B. 1989. Investigation of Langmuir-Blodgett films by the methods of X-ray small-angle diffractometry and reflectometry. Sov. Phys. Crystallography 34(5): 749-752.


Book Chapters

1. Gao X., Jayaraman S., Guha M., Wally J., Lu M., Atkinson D., and Gursky O. 2011. Application of Circular Dichroism to Lipoproteins: Structure, Stability and Remodeling of Good and Bad Cholesterol. In: Circular Dichroism: Theory and Spectroscopy, D. S. Rogers, Edt. Nova Publishers. (Open access)

2. Gursky, O. 2002. “Energetic-structure-function of lipoproteins and their protein components” In: Recent research developments in proteins, S.G. Pandalai, edt., Transworld Res. Network, Vol. 1, pp. 97-121.

3. Badger J., Gursky O., and Caspar D. L. D. 1994. Electrostatic interactions and conformational variability in cubic insulin crystals. In: Synchrotron radiation in the Biosciences, B. Chance et al, edt. Clarendon Press, pp. 43-51.

4. Gurskaya O. B. and Novikova S. I. 1985. Reproducibility of absolute pressure in argon sublimation. In: Advances in Pressure Measurements, Institute of Metrology / National Ministry of Standards, pp. 28-37.

5. Gurskaya O. B. 1985. Analytical approximation of the pressure-temperature sublimation of argon. In: Advances in Pressure Measurements, Institute of Metrology / National Ministry of Standards, pp. 38-42.

The Group

Shobini Jayaraman – Senior Research Associate
Sangeeta Benjwal – Graduate Student
Madhumita Guha – Graduate Student
Xuan Gao – Graduate Student

We also receive a lot of help from:
Donald Gantz – Electron Microscopy
Cheryl England & Michael Gigliotti – Protein isolation and purification

Past Group Members

Ranjana Mehta – Postdoctoral Research Associate, 2001-2002
Current position: Assistant Professor, University of Seattle, Washington

Anya Salganik – Summer Student, 2003
Current position: Undergraduate Student, University of Chicago

Shikha Verma – International Exchange Student, 2003-2004
University of Marburg, Germany
Current position: Scientist, Baxter Inc.

Contact Us

Department of Physiology and Biophysics
Boston University School of Medicine
700 Albany Street

Boston MA 02118-2526
Phone:(617) 638-7894
Fax: (617) 638-4041
e-mail: gursky@bu.edu

February 21, 2014
Primary teaching affiliate
of BU School of Medicine