Structural origins of pH and ionic strength effects on protein stability. Acid denaturation of sperm whale apomyoglobin.J Mol Biol. 1994 Apr 15; 237(5):602-14.JM
A recently developed approach to calculate the pH dependence of protein stability from three-dimensional structure information is applied to the analysis of acid denaturation of sperm whale apomyoglobin. The finite difference Poisson-Boltzmann method is used to calculate pKa values and these are used to obtain titration curves for the folded protein as well as for compact intermediates. The total electrostatic free energy change involved in apomyoglobin unfolding is then evaluated. Calculations are carried out of the unfolding free energy of the native (N) and the compact intermediate (I) of apomyoglobin relative to the unfolded state (U) over a range of pH at various ionic strengths. The contributions from key ionizable groups to the unfolding process are discussed. For the acid-induced partial unfolding of apomyoglobin near pH 5, the transition from N to I is found to be driven by three histidines that are exposed when the B, C, D and E helices unfold. Similarly, the unfolding of the compact intermediate I consisting of the A, G and H helices is driven primarily by a few carboxylic acids with low pKa values in the compact state. This picture is in contrast to the view which attributes acid denaturation to electrostatic repulsion resulting from the build up of positive charge. In fact, charge-charge interactions in myoglobin are found to be attractive at all pH values where the protein unfolds. pH-dependent changes in these interactions contribute to acid denaturation but other electrostatic effects, such as hydrogen bonding and solvation, are important as well. The effect of increasing ionic strength on unfolding is attributed to the decrease of attractive charge-charge interactions which destabilize the N state relative to I, but stabilize the I state relative to U by reducing the pKa shifts of a few critical carboxylic acids. The I state is found to be more stable than U at neutral pH thus accounting for its presence as an intermediate on the protein folding pathway. Our results have implications for the origins of compact intermediates or "molten globule" states.