On the pH dependence of protein stability

Journal of Molecular Biology
A S Yang, B Honig


This paper treats the free energy contribution of ionizable groups to protein stability. A method is presented for the calculation of the pH dependence of the denaturation free energy of a protein, which yields results that can be compared directly to experiment. The first step in the treatment is the determination of the average charges of all the ionizable groups in both the folded and unfolded protein. An expression due to Tanford then relates the pH dependence of the unfolding free energy to the difference in net charge between the two states. In order to determine absolute rather than relative unfolding free energies, it is necessary to calculate the total contribution of ionizable groups to protein stability at some reference pH. This is accomplished through a statistical mechanical treatment similar to the one used previously in the calculation of pKas. The treatment itself is rigorous but it suffers from uncertainties in the pKa calculations. Nevertheless, the overall shape of experimentally observed plots of denaturation free energy as a function of pH are reasonably well reproduced by the calculations. A number of general conclusions that arise from the analysis are: (1) knowledge of titration curves and/or effective ...Continue Reading


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