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Protein Sci. 1995 Feb;4(2):237-50.

Protein destabilization by electrostatic repulsions in the two-stranded alpha-helical coiled-coil/leucine zipper.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


The destabilizing effect of electrostatic repulsions on protein stability has been studied by using synthetic two-stranded alpha-helical coiled-coils as a model system. The native coiled-coil consists of two identical 35-residue polypeptide chains with a heptad repeat QgVaGbAcLdQeKf and a Cys residue at position 2 to allow formation of an interchain disulfide bridge. This peptide, designed to contain no intrahelical or interhelical electrostatic interactions, forms a stable coiled-coil structure at 20 degrees C in benign medium (50 mM KCl, 25 mM PO4, pH 7) with a [urea]1/2 value of 6.1 M. Four mutant coiled-coils were designed to contain one or two Glu substitutions for Gln per polypeptide chain. The resulting coiled-coils contained potential i to i' + 5 Glu-Glu interchain repulsions (denoted as peptide E2(15,20)), i to i' + 2 Glu-Glu interchain repulsions (denoted E2(20,22)), or no interchain ionic interactions (denoted E2(13,22) and E1(20)). The stabilities of the coiled-coils were determined by measuring the ellipticities at 222 nm as a function of urea or guanidine hydrochloride concentration at 20 degrees C in the presence and absence of an interchain disulfide bridge. At pH 7, in the presence of urea, the stabilities of E2(13,22) and E2(20,22) were identical suggesting that the potential i to i' + 2 interchain Glu-Glu repulsion in the E2(20,22) coiled-coil does not occur. In contrast, the mutant E2(15,20) is substantially less stable than E2(13,22) or E2(15,20) by 0.9 kcal/mol due to the presence of two i to i' + 5 interchain Glu-Glu repulsions, which destabilize the coiled-coil by 0.45 kcal/mol each. At pH 3 the coiled-coils were found to increase in stability as the number of Glu substitutions were increased. This, combined with reversed-phase HPLC results at pH 7 and pH 2, supports the conclusion that the protonated Glu side chains present at low pH are significantly more hydrophobic than Gln side chains which are in turn more hydrophobic than the ionized Glu side chains present at neutral pH. The protonated Glu residues increase the hydrophobicity of the coiled-coil interface leading to higher coiled-coil stability. The guanidine hydrochloride results at pH 7 show similar stabilities between the native and mutant coiled-coils indicating that guanidine hydrochloride masks electrostatic repulsions due to its ionic nature and that Glu and Gln in the e and g positions of the heptad repeat have very similar effects on coiled-coil stability in the presence of GdnHCl.

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