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Biophys J. Jan 1997; 72(1): 65–76.
PMCID: PMC1184297

Charge density-dependent strength of hydration and biological structure.


Small ions of high charge density (kosmotropes) bind water molecules strongly, whereas large monovalent ions of low charge density (chaotropes) bind water molecules weakly relative to the strength of water-water interactions in bulk solution. The standard heat of solution of a crystalline alkali halide is shown here to be negative (exothermic) only when one ion is a kosmotrope and the ion of opposite charge is a chaotrope; this standard heat of solution is known to become proportionally more positive as the difference between the absolute heats of hydration of the corresponding gaseous anion and cation decreases. This suggests that inner sphere ion pairs are preferentially formed between oppositely charged ions with matching absolute enthalpies of hydration, and that biological organization arises from the noncovalent association of moieties with matching absolute free energies of solution, except where free energy is expended to keep them apart. The major intracellular anions (phosphates and carboxylates) are kosmotropes, whereas the major intracellular monovalent cations (K+; arg, his, and lys side chains) are chaotropes; together they form highly soluble, solvent-separated ion pairs that keep the contents of the cell in solution.

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