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Open Access Research article

"Hot cores" in proteins: Comparative analysis of the apolar contact area in structures from hyper/thermophilic and mesophilic organisms

Alessandro Paiardini*, Riccardo Sali, Francesco Bossa and Stefano Pascarella

Author Affiliations

Dipartimento di Scienze Biochimiche "A. Rossi Fanelli", Università La Sapienza, P.le A. Moro 5, 00185 Roma, Italy

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BMC Structural Biology 2008, 8:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-8-14

Published: 29 February 2008

Abstract

Background

A wide variety of stabilizing factors have been invoked so far to elucidate the structural basis of protein thermostability. These include, amongst the others, a higher number of ion-pairs interactions and hydrogen bonds, together with a better packing of hydrophobic residues. It has been frequently observed that packing of hydrophobic side chains is improved in hyperthermophilic proteins, when compared to their mesophilic counterparts. In this work, protein crystal structures from hyper/thermophilic organisms and their mesophilic homologs have been compared, in order to quantify the difference of apolar contact area and to assess the role played by the hydrophobic contacts in the stabilization of the protein core, at high temperatures.

Results

The construction of two datasets was carried out so as to satisfy several restrictive criteria, such as minimum redundancy, resolution and R-value thresholds and lack of any structural defect in the collected structures. This approach allowed to quantify with relatively high precision the apolar contact area between interacting residues, reducing the uncertainty due to the position of atoms in the crystal structures, the redundancy of data and the size of the dataset. To identify the common core regions of these proteins, the study was focused on segments that conserve a similar main chain conformation in the structures analyzed, excluding the intervening regions whose structure differs markedly. The results indicated that hyperthermophilic proteins underwent a significant increase of the hydrophobic contact area contributed by those residues composing the alpha-helices of the structurally conserved regions.

Conclusion

This study indicates the decreased flexibility of alpha-helices in proteins core as a major factor contributing to the enhanced termostability of a number of hyperthermophilic proteins. This effect, in turn, may be due to an increased number of buried methyl groups in the protein core and/or a better packing of alpha-helices with the rest of the structure, caused by the presence of hydrophobic beta-branched side chains.