Proteins – Stabilising Forces

There are several different types of forces acting on/within a protein molecule. These include:

  1. Covalent Bonds:
    1. Peptide bonds between Amino Acids (C-N). Can be broken down into individual amino acids by hydrolysis with 6M acid/alkali, or by proteases/proteolytic enzymes.
    2. Disulphide bridges form between cysteine to form cystine. (Cysteine has -SH which forms disulphide bridge -S-S- with another HS-). Bridges are broken down by reduction with β-mercaptoethanol to form cysteines once again.
  2. Non-Covalent Forces/Bonds:
    1. Hydrogen Bonds – these bonds are throughout the protein. The bonds in the middle of the protein structure contribute most to stability as they are furthest away from water (which would disrupt them). These can also be disrupted by heat.
    2. Van Der Waals forces/interactions – short range dipole-dipole (δ+ & δ-) interactions between close atoms. Easily disrupted by heat or denaturing agents.
    3. π-π overlap – π electron clouds delocalised over rings & bonds. Are disrupted by heat.
    4. Electrostatic bonds, Ionic interactions and Salt bridges between residues. All broken by changes in pH or high ionic strength. (Eg, positive residues include Lys, Arg, His while negative residues include Asp, Glu, Tyr & Cys).

– Zwitterions

Zwitterions are amino acids in free solution that are doubly charged. Their net charge will depend on the pH of the solution. Each amino acid has an isoelectric point at which it has no net charge.

Below the isoelectric point (also known as pI), they have a net positive (+ve) charge and above the pl they have a net negative (-ve) charge.

When amino acids become part of a polypeptide/protein, they lose their NH2 and OH groups so only the side chains can carry charges.

Proteins themselves can have isoelectronic points – and this will depend on the number and type of different amino acid residues.

– Hydrophobic Interactions

This is the prime driving force for protein folding (AKA hydrophobic collapse).

Essentially the protein chain will fold in such a way as to minimise the exposure of hydrophobic residues within the chain. This leads to the residues with hydrophilic (polar) side chains being situated on the outside of the molecule.