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Applications of terahertz spectroscopy in biosystems

Plusquellic, David F.
Heilweil, Edwin J.
Esentürk, Okan
Terahertz (THz) spectroscopic investigations of condensed-phase biological samples are reviewed ranging from the simple crystalline forms of amino acids, carbohydrates and polypeptides to the more complex aqueous forms of small proteins, DNA and RNA. Vibrationally resolved studies of crystalline samples have revealed the exquisite sensitivity of THz modes to crystalline order, temperature, conformational form, peptide sequence and local solvate environment and have given unprecedented measures of the binding force constants and anharmonic character of the force fields, properties necessary to improve predictability but not readily obtainable using any other method. These studies have provided benchmark vibrational data on extended periodic structures for direct comparisons with classical (CHARMm) and quantum chemical (density functional theory) theories. For the larger amorphous and/or aqueous phase samples, the THz modes form a continuum-like absorption that arises because of the full accessibility to conformational space and/or the rapid time scale for inter-conversion in these environments. Despite severe absorption by liquid water, detailed investigations have uncovered the photo- and hydration-induced conformational flexibility of proteins, the solvent shell depth of the water/biomolecule boundary layers and the solvent reorientation dynamics occurring in these interfacial layers that occur on sub-picosecond time scales. As such, THz spectroscopy has enhanced and extended the accessibility to intermolecular forces, length- and timescales important in biological structure and activity.