Ultrafast terahertz Stark spectroscopy reveals the excited-state dipole moments of retinal in bacteriorhodopsin


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024 Jun 25;121(26):e2319676121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2319676121. Epub 2024 Jun 20.


The photoinduced all-trans to 13-cis isomerization of the retinal Schiff base represents the ultrafast first step in the reaction cycle of bacteriorhodopsin (BR). Extensive experimental and theoretical work has addressed excited-state dynamics and isomerization via a conical intersection with the ground state. In conflicting molecular pictures, the excited state potential energy surface has been modeled as a pure S[Formula: see text] state that intersects with the ground state, or in a 3-state picture involving the S[Formula: see text] and S[Formula: see text] states. Here, the photoexcited system passes two crossing regions to return to the ground state. The electric dipole moment of the Schiff base in the S[Formula: see text] and S[Formula: see text] state differs strongly and, thus, its measurement allows for assessing the character of the excited-state potential. We apply the method of ultrafast terahertz (THz) Stark spectroscopy to measure electric dipole changes of wild-type BR and a BR D85T mutant upon electronic excitation. A fully reversible transient broadening and spectral shift of electronic absorption is induced by a picosecond THz field of several megavolts/cm and mapped by a 120-fs optical probe pulse. For both BR variants, we derive a moderate electric dipole change of 5 [Formula: see text] 1 Debye, which is markedly smaller than predicted for a neat S[Formula: see text]-character of the excited state. In contrast, S[Formula: see text]-admixture and temporal averaging of excited-state dynamics over the probe pulse duration gives a dipole change in line with experiment. Our results support a picture of electronic and nuclear dynamics governed by the interaction of S[Formula: see text] and S[Formula: see text] states in a 3-state model.

PMID:38900801 | DOI:10.1073/pnas.2319676121