Cooperative helix stabilization by complex Arg-Glu salt bridges

C. Anders Olson, Erik J. Spek, Zhengshuang Shi, Alexander Vologodskii, Neville R. Kallenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Among the interactions that stabilize the native state of proteins, the role of electrostatic interactions has been difficult to quantify precisely. Surface salt bridges or ion pairs between acidic and basic side chains have only a modest stabilizing effect on the stability of helical peptides or proteins: estimates are roughly 0.5 kcal/mol or less. On the other hand, theoretical arguments and the occurrence of salt bridge networks in thermophilic proteins suggest that multiple salt bridges may exert a stronger stabilizing effect. We show here that triads of charged side chains, Arg+-Glu-Arg+ spaced at i,i+4 or i,i+3 intervals in a helical peptide stabilize alpha helix by more than the additive contribution of two single salt bridges. The free energy of the triad is more than 1 kcal/mol in excess of the sum of the individual pairs, measured in low salt concentration (10 mM). The effect of spacing the three groups is severe; placing the charges at i,i+4 or i,i+3 sites has a strong effect on stability relative to single bridges; other combinations are weaker. A conservative calculation suggests that interactions of this kind between salt bridges can account for much of the stabilization of certain thermophilic proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-132
Number of pages10
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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