Journal of the Royal Society Interface
Seventeen years after it was originally suggested, the photoreceptor protein cryptochrome remains the most probable host for the radical pair intermediates that are thought to be the sensors in the avian magnetic compass. Although evidence in favour of this hypothesis is accumulating, the intracellular interaction partners of the sensory protein are still unknown. It has been suggested that ascorbate ions could interact with surface-exposed tryptophan radicals in photoactivated cryptochromes, and so lead to the formation of a radical pair comprised of the reduced form of the flavin adenine dinucleotide cofactor, FAD*- , and the ascorbate radical, Asc*-. This species could provide a more sensitive compass than a FAD- tryptophan radical pair. In this study of Drosophila melanogaster cryptochrome and Erithacus rubecula (European robin) cryptochrome 1a, we use molecular dynamics simulations to characterize the transient encounters of ascorbate ions with tryptophan radicals in cryptochrome in order to assess the likelihood of the [FAD*- Asc*-]-pathway. It is shown that ascorbate ions are expected to bind near the tryptophan radicals for periods of a few nanoseconds. The rate at which these encounters happen is low, and it is therefore concluded that ascorbate ions are unlikely to be involved in magnetoreception if the ascorbate concentration is only of the order of 1 mM or less.