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J Mol Biol. 1991 Mar 20;218(2):465-75.

Aromatic-aromatic interactions and protein stability. Investigation by double-mutant cycles.

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Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, U.K.


The side-chains of phenylalanine and tyrosine residues in proteins are frequently found to be involved in pairwise interactions. These occur both within repeating elements of secondary structure and in tertiary and quaternary interactions. It has been suggested that they are important in protein folding and stability, and non-bonded potential energy calculations indicate that a typical aromatic-aromatic interaction has an energy of between -1 and -2 kcal/mol and contributes between -0.6 and -1.3 kcal/mol to protein stability. There is such an aromatic pair on the solvent-exposed face of the first alpha-helix of barnase, the small ribonuclease from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. The edge of the aromatic ring of Tyr17 interacts with the face of that of Tyr13. The two residues have been mutated both singly and pairwise to alanine, and their free energies of unfolding determined by denaturation with urea. Application of the double-mutant cycle analysis gives an interaction energy of -1.3 kcal/mol for the aromatic pair in the folded protein relative to solvation by water in the unfolded protein. This value is similar to that calculated from the change in surface-accessible area between the rings on the formation of the pair. Analysis of a further double-mutant cycle in which the Tyr residues are mutated to Phe indicates that the aromatic-aromatic interactions of Tyr/Tyr and Phe/Phe make identical contributions to protein stability. However, Tyr is preferred to Phe by 0.3(+/- 0.04) kcal/mol at the solvent-exposed face of the alpha-helix.

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