Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Brian A. Todd

Committee Chair

Brian A. Todd

Committee Member 1

Andrew Hirsch

Committee Member 2

Horia Petrache

Committee Member 3

Markus Lill

Committee Member 4

Stephen Durbin


Biological environments contain between 7 - 40% macromolecules by volume. This reduces the available volume for macromolecules and elevates the osmotic pressure relative to pure water. Consequently, biological macromolecules in their native environments tend to adopt more compact and dehydrated conformations than those in vitro. This effect is referred to as macromolecular crowding and constitutes an important physical difference between native biological environments and the simple solutions in which biomolecules are usually studied.^ We used small angle scattering (SAS) to measure the effects of macromolecular crowding on the size of a protein complex, superoxide dismutase (SOD). Crowding was induced using 400 MW polyethylene glycol (PEG), triethylene glycol (TEG), methyl-alpha-glucoside (alpha-MG) and trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Parallel small angle neutron scattering (SANS) and small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) allowed us to unambiguously attribute apparent changes in radius of gyration to changes in the structure of SOD. For a 40% PEG solution, we find that the volume of SOD was reduced by 9%. SAS coupled with osmotic pressure measurements allowed us to estimate a compressibility modulus for SOD. We believe this to be the first time the osmotic compressibility of a protein complex was measured.^ Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations are widely used to obtain insights on biomolecular processes. However, it is not clear whether MD is capable of predicting subtle effects of macromolecular crowding. We used our experimentally observed compressibility of SOD to evaluate the ability of MD to predict macromolecular crowding. Effects of macromolecular crowding due to PEG on SOD were modeled using an all atom MD simulation with the CHARMM forcefield and the crystallographically resolved structures of SOD and PEG. Two parallel MD simulations were performed for SOD in water and SOD in 40% PEG for over 150~ns. Over the period of the simulation the SOD structure in 40% PEG did not change compared to the SOD structure in water. It therefore appears that under the conditions of our simulations MD could not describe the experimentally observed effects of macromolecular crowding.^ In a separate project, we measured the rate of diffusive transport in excised porcine corneal stroma using FCS for fluorescent labeled dextran molecules with hydrodynamic radii ranging from 1.3 to 34 nm. Dextran molecules diffuse more slowly in cornea as compared to buffer solution. The reduction in diffusion coefficient is modest however (67% smaller), and is uniform over the range of sizes that we measured. Diffusion coefficients measured parallel vs. perpendicular to the collagen lamellae were indistinguishable. This indicates that diffusion in the corneal stroma is not highly anisotropic. Delivery of therapeutic agents to the eye requires efficient transport through cellular and extracellular barriers. Our measurements bring important insights into how macromolecular and nanoparticle therapeutics might permeate through the eyes