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Novel NMR Spectrometer for Highly Sensitive Protein Analysis

To decipher the roots of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Diabetes, scientists at the ICS-6 study the structure of the proteins and protein complexes involved. Now, a newly installed DNP-NMR spectrometer will help them in their work by significantly increasing measuring sensitivity. The German Research Foundation (DFG) provided funding of € 2.6 million for the device.

Prof. Henrike Heise vor dem 600 Megahertz DNP-verstärkten NMR-Spektrometer

Prof. Henrike Heise in front of the new DNP-NMR spectrometer. For the researchers’ analyses, tiny protein samples are inserted into the spectrometer’s magnetic field using a small sample holder. Source: Forschungszentrum Jülich

The DNP-NMR-spectrometer is the newest addition to the Biomolecular NMR Centre, which is jointly run by Forschungszentrum Jülich and the University of Düsseldorf. Through a combination of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP), it can increase measuring sensitivity by up to two orders of magnitude. This allows for the study of larger proteins and protein complexes, which in the past could only be analyzed to a limited extent.


The spectrometer produces dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) via a connected microwave generator. Prof. Henrike Heise, head of the Department of Solid-State-NMR-Spectroscopy at ICS-6, explains the principle: “With strong microwave radiation, we excite unpaired electrons of stable radicals, which are added to the sample beforehand. The electrons transfer their polarization to the atomic nuclei, which strengthens the signal the nuclei emit.” In initial test runs, Heise and her team already succeeded in increasing the intensity of the signal 96-fold. The first measurements were performed on a fibril of amylin, a protein linked to type II diabetes.


Prof. Dieter Willbold, director at ICS-6, stresses the scientific value of the new device: “The importance of DNP-enhanced NMR as an instrument of structural biology is increasing. The new spectrometer will be a very valuable tool for our Alzheimer’s projects, for instance.”


The new technology is currently only available at a few locations in Germany. Requests for measurement time have already been received from research groups at various universities.


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