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Proteins. 1995 Aug;22(4):404-12.

The heat capacity of proteins.

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Department of Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA.


The heat capacity plays a major role in the determination of the energetics of protein folding and molecular recognition. As such, a better understanding of this thermodynamic parameter and its structural origin will provide new insights for the development of better molecular design strategies. In this paper we have analyzed the absolute heat capacity of proteins in different conformations. The results of these studies indicate that three major terms account for the absolute heat capacity of a protein: (1) one term that depends only on the primary or covalent structure of a protein and contains contributions from vibrational frequencies arising from the stretching and bending modes of each valence bond and internal rotations; (2) a term that contains the contributions of noncovalent interactions arising from secondary and tertiary structure; and (3) a term that contains the contributions of hydration. For a typical globular protein in solution the bulk of the heat capacity at 25 degrees C is given by the covalent structure term (close to 85% of the total). The hydration term contributes about 15 and 40% to the total heat capacity of the native and unfolded states, respectively. The contribution of non-covalent structure to the total heat capacity of the native state is positive but very small and does not amount to more than 3% at 25 degrees C. The change in heat capacity upon unfolding is primarily given by the increase in the hydration term (about 95%) and to a much lesser extent by the loss of noncovalent interactions (up to approximately 5%).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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