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Protein Sci. 2000 Oct;9(10):2026-33.

Dimer formation by a "monomeric" protein.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 53706, USA.


Dimeric proteins can arise by the swapping of structural domains between monomers. The prevalence of this occurrence is unknown. Ribonuclease A (RNase A) is assumed to be a monomer near physiological conditions. Here, this hypothesis is tested and found to be imprecise. The two histidine residues (His12 and His119) in the active site of RNase A arise from two domains (S-peptide and S-protein) of the protein. The H12A and H119A variants have 10(5)-fold less ribonucleolytic activity than does the wild-type enzyme. Incubating a 1:1 mixture of the H12A and H119A variants at pH 6.5 and 65 degrees C results in a 10(3)-fold increase in ribonucleolytic activity. A large quantity of active dimer can be produced by lyophilizing a 1:1 mixture of the H12A and H119A variants from acetic acid. At pH 6.5 and 65 degrees C, the ribonucleolytic activity of this dimer converges to that of the dimer formed by simply incubating the monomers, as expected for a monomer-dimer equilibrium. The equilibrium dissociation constant for the dimer is near 2 mM at both 65 and 37 degrees C. This value of Kd is only 20-fold greater than the concentration of RNase A in the cow pancreas, suggesting that RNase A dimers exist in vivo. The intrinsic ability of RNase A to form dimers under physiological conditions is consistent with a detailed model for the evolution of homodimeric proteins. Dimers of "monomeric" proteins could be more prevalent than is usually appreciated.

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