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Biomacromolecules. 2001 Winter;2(4):1089-96.

Molecular basis of C(2+)-induced gelation in alginates and pectins: the egg-box model revisited.

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Centre de Recherches sur les Macromolécules Végétales, Université Joseph Fourier, CNRS, BP 53 X, 38041 Grenoble Cedex, France.


For many ionic polysaccharides, the ability to form gels in the presence of divalent cations such as calcium is the key to biological functions and technological applications. This is particularly true for alginates and pectins, where the regular occurrence of respectively alpha-L-(1-4)-guluronate residues and alpha-D-galacturonate residues generates ordered templates for polymer chain associations that are involved in physical gels. The molecular basis responsible for the strength and the stereospecificity of calcium interactions for the two polysaccharides were investigated in a previous paper (Braccini; et al. Carbohydr. Res. 1999, 119). In the present work, a novel molecular modeling procedure has been developed; it involves a pairing procedure that evaluates all the possible associations of the ordered polyuronate chains with calcium ions to form dimers. Starting from the stable ordered forms of polygalacturonate and polyguluronate, all possible ways to form Ca(2+)-bridged dimers were computed; the parallel and antiparallel relative arrangements of the chains were also considered. Despite the structural analogy between polyguluronate and polygalacturonate chains, significant differences at the level of chain-chain associations are found. The popular "egg box model" can still be referred to in the case of polyguluronate. However, it cannot be used to describe a pectate junction zone as the unique feature of two consecutive chelation site per repeat, that provides a favorable entropic contribution to the interchain association is not reproduced by this pioneering model. The body of these results corroborates the two-stage process in the mechanism of calcium gelation, where the formation of strongly linked dimer associations is followed by the formation of weak inter-dimer associations mainly governed by electrostatic interactions.

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