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Biochemistry. 2000 Nov 21;39(46):14292-304.

pH dependence of stability of staphylococcal nuclease: evidence of substantial electrostatic interactions in the denatured state.

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Department of Biophysics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.


The pH dependence of stability of staphylococcal nuclease was studied with two independent equilibrium thermodynamic approaches. First, by measurement of stability in the pH range 9 to 3.5 by fluorescence-monitored denaturation with urea (Delta), GdnHCl (Delta), and heat (Delta). Second, by numerical integration of H(+) titration curves (Delta) measured potentiometrically under native (100 mM KCl) and unfolding (6.0 M GdnHCl) conditions. The pH dependence of stability described by Delta, Delta, and Delta was comparable but significantly different from the one described by Delta. The decrease in Delta between pH 9 and pH 4 was 4 kcal/mol greater than the decrease in Delta, Delta, and Delta in the same pH range. In 6 M GdnHCl, all the ionizable groups titrated with the pK(a) values of model compounds. Therefore, Delta represents the free energy difference between the native state (N) and an ensemble of unstructured, or expanded, and highly screened conformations. In contrast, the shallower pH dependence of stability described by Delta and by Delta between pH 9 and 5 was consistent with the titration of histidines with depressed, nativelike pK(a) values in the denatured state (D). These depressed pK(a) values likely reflect long-range electrostatic interactions with the other 29 basic groups and are a consequence of the compact character of the D state. The steep change in Delta and Delta at pH < 5 suggests that near pH 5 the structural and thermodynamic character of the D state shifts toward a state in which acidic residues titrate with normal pK(a) values, presumably because the electrostatic interactions with basic residues are lost, maybe as a consequence of an expansion.

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