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J Mol Biol. 1992 Jan 20;223(2):509-17.

Energy-optimized structure of antifreeze protein and its binding mechanism.

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  • 1Upjohn Research Laboratories, Kalamazoo, MI 49001.


A combination of Monte Carlo simulated annealing and energy minimization was utilized to determine the conformation of the antifreeze protein from the fish winter flounder. It was found from the energy-optimized structure that the hydroxyl groups of its four threonine residues, i.e. Thr2, Thr13, Thr24, Thr35, are aligned on almost the same line parallel to the helix axis and separated successively by 16.1, 16.0 and 16.2 A, respectively, very close to the 16.6 A repeat spacing along [0112] in ice. Based on such a space match, a zipper-like model is proposed to elucidate the binding mechanism of the antifreeze protein to ice crystals. According to the current model, the antifreeze protein may bind to an ice nucleation structure in a zipper-like fashion through hydrogen bonding of the hydroxyl groups of these four Thr residues to the oxygen atoms along the [0112] direction in ice lattice, subsequently stopping or retarding the growth of ice pyramidal planes so as to depress the freeze point. The calculated results and the binding mechanism thus derived accord with recent experimental observations. The mechanistic implications derived from such a special antifreeze molecule might be generally applied to elucidate the structure-function relationship of other antifreeze proteins with the following two common features: (1) recurrence of a Thr residue (or any other polar amino acid residue whose side-chain can form a hydrogen bond with water) in an 11-amino-acid period along the sequence concerned; and (2) a high percentage of Ala residue component therein. Further experiments are suggested to test the ice binding model.

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