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Biochemistry. 1999 Jun 22;38(25):8138-49.

Thermal versus guanidine-induced unfolding of ubiquitin. An analysis in terms of the contributions from charge-charge interactions to protein stability.

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  • 1Facultad de Ciencias, Departamento de Quimica Fisica, Universidad de Granada, Spain.


We have characterized the guanidine-induced unfolding of both yeast and bovine ubiquitin at 25 degrees C and in the acidic pH range on the basis of fluorescence and circular dichroism measurements. Unfolding Gibbs energy changes calculated by linear extrapolation from high guanidine unfolding data are found to depend very weakly on pH. A simple explanation for this result involves the two following assumptions: (1) charged atoms of ionizable groups are exposed to the solvent in native ubiquitin (as supported by accessible surface area calculations), and Gibbs energy contributions associated with charge desolvation upon folding (a source of pK shifts) are small; (2) charge-charge interactions (another source of pK shifts upon folding) are screened out in concentrated guanidinium chloride solutions. We have also characterized the thermal unfolding of both proteins using differential scanning calorimetry. Unfolding Gibbs energy changes calculated from the calorimetric data do depend strongly on pH, a result that we attribute to the pH dependence of charge-charge interactions (not eliminated in the absence of guanidine). In fact, we find good agreement between the difference between the two series of experimental unfolding Gibbs energy changes (determined from high guanidine unfolding data by linear extrapolation and from thermal denaturation data in the absence of guanidine) and the theoretical estimates of the contribution from charge-charge interactions to the Gibbs energy change for ubiquitin unfolding obtained by using the solvent-accessibility-corrected Tanford-Kirkwood model, together with the Bashford-Karplus (reduced-set-of-sites) approximation. This contribution is found to be stabilizing at neutral pH, because most charged groups on the native protein interact mainly with groups of the opposite charge, a fact that, together with the absence of large charge-desolvation contributions, may explain the high stability of ubiquitin at neutral pH. In general, our analysis suggests the possibility of enhancing protein thermal stability by adequately redesigning the distribution of solvent-exposed, charged residues on the native protein surface.

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