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Keywords:

  • nucleation;
  • aggregation kinetics;
  • amyloids;
  • protein fibers;
  • fibrils;
  • neurodegenerative diseases;
  • prions;
  • protein deposits;
  • spinodal demixing

Abstract

Understanding the physical basis of protein aggregation covers strong physical and biomedical interests. Sickle hemoglobin (HbS) is a point-mutant form of normal human adult hemoglobin (HbA). It is responsible for the first identified “molecular disease,” as its propensity to aggregation is responsible for sickle cell disease. At moderately higher than physiological pH value, this propensity is inhibited: The rate of aggregate nucleation becomes exceedingly small and solubility after polymerization increases. These order-of-magnitude effects on polymer nucleation rates and concurrent relatively modest changes of solubility after polymerization are here shown to be related to both pH-induced changes of location and shape of the liquid–liquid demixing (LLD) region. This allows establishment of a self-consistent contact between the thermodynamics of the solution as such (i.e., the LLD region), the kinetics of fiber nucleation, the theory of percolation, and the thermodynamics of gelation. The observed pH-induced changes are largely attributable to strong perturbations of hydrophobic hydration configurations and related free energy by electric charges. Similar mechanisms of effective control of aggregate nucleation rates by means of agents such as cosolutes, pH, salts, and additives, shifting the LLD and associated regions of anomalous fluctuations, promise to be relevant to the whole field of protein aggregation pathologies. Proteins 2004;00:000–000. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.