• denatured states;
  • electrostatic interactions;
  • pH depen–dence;
  • protein folding;
  • protein stability


Several recent studies have shown that it is possible to increase protein stability by improving electrostatic interactions among charged groups on the surface of the folded protein. How–ever, the stability increases are considerably smaller than predicted by a simple Coulomb's law calculation, and in some cases, a charge reversal on the surface leads to a decrease in stability when an increase was predicted. These results suggest that favorable charge–charge interactions are important in determining the dena–tured state ensemble, and that the free energy of the denatured state may be decreased more than that of the native state by reversing the charge of a side chain. We suggest that when the hydrophobic and hydrogen bonding interactions that stabilize the folded state are disrupted, the unfolded polypeptide chain rearranges to com–pact conformations with favorable long–range electrostatic inter–actions. These charge–charge interactions in the denatured state will reduce the net contribution of electrostatic interactions to protein stability and will help determine the denatured state ensemble. To support this idea, we show that the denatured state ensemble of ribonuclease Sa is considerably more compact at pH 7 where fa–vorable charge–charge interactions are possible than at pH 3, where unfavorable electrostatic repulsion among the positive charges causes an expansion of the denatured state ensemble. Further support is provided by studies of the ionic strength dependence of the sta–bility of charge–reversal mutants of ribonuclease Sa. These results may have important implications for the mechanism of protein folding.