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Biophys J. 1999 May;76(5):2744-51.

Microscopic viscosity and rotational diffusion of proteins in a macromolecular environment.

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Institut Curie-Recherche (INSERM U350), Bâtiment 112, Centre Universitaire, 91405 Orsay, France.


The Stokes-Einstein-Debye equation is currently used to obtain information on protein size or on local viscosity from the measurement of the rotational correlation time. However, the implicit assumptions of a continuous and homogeneous solvent do not hold either in vivo, because of the high density of macromolecules, or in vitro, where viscosity is adjusted by adding viscous cosolvents of various size. To quantify the consequence of nonhomogeneity, we have measured the rotational Brownian motion of three globular proteins with molecular mass from 66 to 4000 kD in presence of 1.5 to 2000 kD dextrans as viscous cosolvents. Our results indicate that the linear viscosity dependence of the Stokes-Einstein relation must be replaced by a power law to describe the rotational Brownian motion of proteins in a macromolecular environment. The exponent of the power law expresses the fact that the protein experiences only a fraction of the hydrodynamic interactions of macromolecular cosolvents. An explicit expression of the exponent in terms of protein size and cosolvent's mass is obtained, permitting definition of a microscopic viscosity. Experimental data suggest that a similar effective microviscosity should be introduced in Kramers' equation describing protein reaction rates.

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