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J Mol Biol. 2007 Jan 12;365(2):425-39. Epub 2006 Oct 5.

The kinetics of nucleation and growth of sickle cell hemoglobin fibers.

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-4004, USA.


Polymerization of sickle cell hemoglobin (HbS) in deoxy state is one of the basic events in the pathophysiology of sickle cell anemia. For insight into the polymerization process, we monitor the kinetics of nucleation and growth of the HbS polymer fibers. We define a technique for the determination of the rates J and delay times theta of nucleation and the fiber growth rates R of deoxy-HbS fibers, based on photolysis of CO-HbS by laser illumination. We solve numerically time-dependent equations of heat conductance and CO transport, coupled with respective photo-chemical processes, during kinetics experiments under continuous illumination. After calibration with experimentally determined values, we define a regime of illumination ensuring uniform temperature and deoxy-HbS concentration, and fast (within <1 s) egress to steady conditions. With these procedures, data on the nucleation and growth kinetics have relative errors of <5% and are reproducible within 10% in independent experiments. The nucleation rates and delay times have steep, exponential dependencies on temperature. In contrast, the average fiber growth rates only weakly depend on temperature. The individual growth rates vary by up to 40% under identical conditions. These variations are attributed to instability of the coupled kinetics and diffusion towards the growing end of a fiber. The activation energy for incorporation of HbS molecules into a polymer is E(A)=50 kJ mol(-1), a low value indicating the significance of the hydrophobic contacts in the HbS polymer. More importantly, the contrast between the strong theta(T) and weak R(T) dependencies suggests that the homogenous nucleation of HbS polymers occurs within clusters of a precursor phase. This conclusion may have significant consequences for the understanding of the pathophysiology of sickle cell anemia and should be tested in further work.

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