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J Biol Chem. 1990 Mar 25;265(9):5055-9.

Ligand-induced biphasic protein denaturation.

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Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


The results of a thermodynamic calculation of the excess heat capacity that is based on experimental observations and that incorporates the effects of ligand binding on the two-state, thermal denaturation of a protein are presented. For a protein with a single-binding site on the native species and at subsaturating concentrations of ligand, bimodal or unimodal thermograms were computed merely by assuming a larger or smaller ligand association constant, respectively. The calculated thermograms for this simplified case show the salient features of those observed by differential scanning calorimetry for defatted human albumin monomer in the absence and presence of three ligands for which the protein has higher, intermediate, and lower affinity (Shrake, A., and Ross, P. D. (1988) J. Biol. Chem. 263, 15392-15399). The computation demonstrates that biphasic unfolding can result from a significant increase in the free energy of denaturation (and the transition temperature) during the course of unfolding due to a substantial increase in free ligand concentration caused by the release of bound ligand by denaturing protein. Such ligand-induced biphasic denaturation does not relate to macromolecular substructure but derives from a perturbation, during unfolding, of the ligand binding equilibrium, which is coupled to the equilibrium between the folded and unfolded protein species. Thus, this bimodality is not limited to thermally induced unfolding but is operative independent of the means used to effect denaturation and therefore must be considered when studying any macromolecular folding/unfolding reaction in the presence of ligand.

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