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Eur J Biochem. 1991 Dec 18;202(3):715-28.

Protein stability and molecular adaptation to extreme conditions.

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Institut für Biophysik und Physikalische Biochemie, Universität Regensburg, Federal Republic of Germany.


Proteins, due to the delicate balance of stabilizing and destabilizing interactions, are only marginally stable. Adaptation to extreme environments tends to shift the 'mesophilic' characteristics of proteins to the respective extremes of temperature, hydrostatic pressure, pH and salinity, such that, under the mutual physiological conditions, the molecular properties are similar regarding overall topology, flexibility and solvation. Enhanced intrinsic stability requires only minute local structural changes so that general strategies of stabilization cannot be established. Apart from mutative changes of amino-acid sequences, extrinsic factors (or cellular components) may be involved in 'extremophilic adaptation'. The molecular basis of acidophilic, alkalophilic and barophilic adaptation is still obscure. Mechanisms of enhanced thermal stability involve improved packing density, as well as specific local interactions. In halophiles, water and salt binding of the intrinsically stable protein inventory is accomplished by favoring acidic over basic amino acid residues and decreased hydrophobicity. General limits of viability are: (a) the susceptibility of the covalent structure of the polypeptide chain toward hydrolysis or hydrothermal degradation; (b) the competition of extreme solvent parameters with the weak electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions involved in protein stabilization; (c) perturbations of the folding and assembly of proteins; and (d) 'dislocation' of biochemical pathways due to effects of extreme conditions on the intricate network of metabolic reactions.

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