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Q Rev Biophys. 1998 Aug;31(3):297-355.

Trifluoroethanol and colleagues: cosolvents come of age. Recent studies with peptides and proteins.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. 02138, USA.


Alcohol based cosolvents, such as trifluoroethanol (TFE) have been used for many decades to denature proteins and to stabilize structures in peptides. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and site directed mutagenesis have recently made it possible to characterize the effects of TFE and of other alcohols on polypeptide structure and dynamics at high resolution. This review examines such studies, particularly of hen lysozyme and beta-lactoglobulin. It presents an overview of what has been learnt about conformational preferences of the polypeptide chain, the interactions that stabilize structures and the nature of the denatured states. The effect of TFE on transition states and on the pathways of protein folding and unfolding are also reviewed. Despite considerable progress there is as yet no single mechanism that accounts for all of the effects TFE and related cosolvents have on polypeptide conformation. However, a number of critical questions are beginning to be answered. Studies with alcohols such as TFE, and 'cosolvent engineering' in general, have become valuable tools for probing biomolecular structure, function and dynamics.

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