Protein structure and dynamics in nonaqueous solvents: Insights from molecular dynamics simulation studies

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Protein structure and dynamics in nonaqueous solvents are here investigated using molecular dynamics simulation studies, by considering two model proteins (ubiquitin and cutinase) in hexane, under varying hydration conditions. Ionization of the protein groups is treated assuming "pH memory," i.e., using the ionization states characteristic of aqueous solution. Neutralization of charged groups by counterions is done by considering a counterion for each charged group that cannot be made neutral by establishing a salt bridge with another charged group; this treatment is more physically reasonable for the nonaqueous situation, contrasting with the usual procedures. Our studies show that hydration has a profound effect on protein stability and flexibility in nonaqueous solvents. The structure becomes more nativelike with increasing values of hydration, up to a certain point, when further increases render it unstable and unfolding starts to occur. There is an optimal amount of water, ∼10% (w/w), where the protein structure and flexibility are closer to the ones found in aqueous solution. This behavior can explain the experimentally known bell-shaped dependence of enzyme catalysis on hydration, and the molecular reasons for it are examined here. Water and counterions play a fundamental and dynamic role on protein stabilization, but they also seem to be important for protein unfolding at high percentages of bound water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1628-1641
Number of pages14
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003


  • ubiquitin
  • water
  • cutinase
  • hexane
  • solvent


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