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Irradiation of proteins with intense X-ray radiation produced by third-generation synchrotron sources generates specific structural and chemical alterations, including breakage of disulfide bonds and decarboxylation. In this paper, disulfide bond lengths in irradiated crystals of the enzyme Torpedo californica acetylcholinesterase are examined based on quantum simulations and on experimental data published previously. The experimental data suggest that one disulfide bond elongates by ∼0.7 Å upon X-ray irradiation as seen in a series of nine data sets collected on a single crystal. Simulation of the same bond suggests elongation by a similar value if a disulfide-radical anion is formed by trapping an electron. The absorption spectrum of a crystal irradiated under similar conditions shows a peak at ∼400 nm, which in aqueous solution has been attributed to disulfide radicals. The results suggest that the formation of disulfide radicals in protein crystals owing to X-ray irradiation can be observed experimentally, both by structural means and by absorption spectroscopy.

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