Gd(iii)–Gd(iii) EPR distance measurements – the range of accessible distances and the impact of zero field splitting†
Gd(III) complexes have emerged as spin labels for distance determination in biomolecules through double-electron–electron resonance (DEER) measurements at high fields. For data analysis, the standard approach developed for a pair of weakly coupled spins with S = 1/2 was applied, ignoring the actual properties of Gd(III) ions, i.e. S = 7/2 and ZFS (zero field splitting) ≠ 0. The present study reports on a careful investigation on the consequences of this approach, together with the range of distances accessible by DEER with Gd(III) complexes as spin labels. The experiments were performed on a series of specifically designed and synthesized Gd-rulers (Gd-PyMTA–spacer–Gd-PyMTA) covering Gd–Gd distances of 2–8 nm. These were dissolved in D2O–glycerol-d8 (0.03–0.10 mM solutions) which is the solvent used for the corresponding experiments on biomolecules. Q- and W-band DEER measurements, followed by data analysis using the standard data analysis approach, used for S = 1/2 pairs gave the distance–distribution curves, of which the absolute maxima agreed very well with the expected distances. However, in the case of the short distances of 2.1 and 2.9 nm, the distance distributions revealed additional peaks. These are a consequence of neglecting the pseudo-secular term in the dipolar Hamiltonian during the data analysis, as is outlined in a theoretical treatment. At distances of 3.4 nm and above, disregarding the pseudo-secular term leads to a broadening of a maximum of 0.4 nm of the distance–distribution curves at half height. Overall, the distances of up to 8.3 nm were determined, and the long evolution time of 16 μs at 10 K indicates that a distance of up to 9.4 nm can be accessed. A large distribution of the ZFS parameter, D, as is found for most Gd(III) complexes in a frozen solution, is crucial for the application of Gd(III) complexes as spin labels for distance determination via Gd(III)–Gd(III) DEER, especially for short distances. The larger ZFS of Gd-PyMTA, in comparison to that of Gd-DOTA, makes Gd-PyMTA a better label for short distances.