Chapter 22.2 Hydrogen bonding in biological macromolecules

Crystallography of biological macromolecules

First Online Edition (2006)

Part 22. Molecular geometry and features

  1. E. N. Baker

Published Online: 1 JAN 2006

DOI: 10.1107/97809553602060000711

International Tables for Crystallography

International Tables for Crystallography

How to Cite

Baker, E. N. 2006. Hydrogen bonding in biological macromolecules. International Tables for Crystallography. F:22:22.2:546–552.

Author Information

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

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 JAN 2006



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