The switch in the bacteriorhodopsin photocycle, which reorients access of the retinal Schiff base from the extracellular to the cytoplasmic side, was suggested to be an M1----M2 reaction (Váró and Lanyi. 1991. Biochemistry. 30:5008–5015, 5016–5022). Thus, in this light-driven proton pump it is the interconversion of proposed M substates that gives direction to the transport. We find that in monomeric, although not purple membrane-lattice immobilized, D115N bacteriorhodopsin, the absorption maximum of M changes during the photocycle: in the time domain between its rise and decay it shifts 15 nm to the blue relative to the spectrum at earlier times. This large shift strongly supports the existence of two M substates. Since D115 is located near the beta-ionone ring of the retinal, the result raises questions about the possible involvement of the retinal chain or protein residues as far away as 10 A from the Schiff base in the mechanism of the switching reaction.
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