Chapter 22.3 Hydrogen bonding in biological macromolecules

Crystallography of biological macromolecules

Second Online Edition (2012)

Part 22. Molecular geometry and features

  1. E. N. Baker

Published Online: 14 APR 2012

DOI: 10.1107/97809553602060000887

International Tables for Crystallography

International Tables for Crystallography

How to Cite

Baker, E. N. 2012. Hydrogen bonding in biological macromolecules. International Tables for Crystallography. F:22:22.3:721–729.

Author Information

  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92–109, Auckland, New Zealand

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 14 APR 2012


Hydrogen bonds are weak non-covalent interactions, but their directional nature and the large number of hydrogen-bonding groups mean that they play a critical role in the structure and function of proteins and nucleic acids. Analyses of three-dimensional structures, particularly of proteins, reveal many consistent patterns, which are described in this review. Protein structures show almost complete saturation of hydrogen-bonding potential. Helices, β-strands, β-turns and γ-turns all show characteristic C=O···HN geometries, with helices having a variety of termination patterns. Local interactions are very common for main-chain···side-chain hydrogen bonds and may help direct protein folding. Non-local interactions, although fewer in number, can be very important for structural stability, and bound water molecules, because of their double-donor, double-acceptor capability, can play critical roles in satisfying overall hydrogen-bonding requirements. Finally, there is also a growing realization that non-conventional hydrogen bonds may play a more important role than hitherto recognized.


  • beta-sheets;
  • amino-aromatic hydrogen bonding;
  • DNA;
  • helices;
  • hydrogen bonding;
  • hydrogen-bonding criteria;
  • hydrogen-bonding potential;
  • nucleic acids;
  • protein folding;
  • protein stability;
  • RNA;
  • secondary structure;
  • side-chain hydrogen bonding;
  • turns