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Biophys J. 2011 Aug 17;101(4):885-91. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2011.05.064.

The growth of sickle hemoglobin polymers.

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Department of Physics, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.


The measurement of polymer growth is an essential element in characterization of assembly. We have developed a precise method of measuring the growth of sickle hemoglobin polymers by observing the time required for polymers to traverse a photolytically produced channel between a region in which polymers are created and a detection region. The presence of the polymer is functionally detected by observing its ability to create new polymers through the well-established process of heterogeneous nucleation. Using this method, we have determined the rate constants for monomer addition to and release from polymer ends, as well as their temperature dependences. At 25°C we find k(+) = 84 ± 2 mM⁻¹ s⁻¹ and k(-) = 790 ± 80 molecules/s from each end. These numbers are in accord with differential interference contrast measurements, and their ratio gives a solubility measured on individual fibers. The single-fiber solubility agrees with that measured in sedimentation experiments. The concentration dependence of the monomer addition rate is consistent with monomer addition, but not oligomer addition, to growing polymers. The concentration dependence suggests the presence of an activation enthalpy barrier, and the rate of monomer addition is not diffusion-limited. Analysis of the temperature dependence of the monomer addition rate reveals an apparent activation energy of 9.1 ± 0.6 kcal/mol.

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