Electrostatic contributions to the folding free energy of several hyperthermophilic proteins and their mesophilic homologs are calculated. In all the cases studied, electrostatic interactions are more favorable in the hyperthermophilic proteins. The electrostatic free energy is found not to be correlated with the number of ionizable amino acid residues, ion pairs or ion pair networks in a protein, but rather depends on the location of these groups within the protein structure. Moreover, due to the large free energy cost associated with burying charged groups, buried ion pairs are found to be destabilizing unless they undergo favorable interactions with additional polar groups, including other ion pairs. The latter case involves the formation of stabilizing ion pair networks as is observed in a number of proteins. Ion pairs located on the protein surface also provide stabilizing interactions in a number of cases. Taken together, our results suggest that many hyperthermophilic proteins enhance electrostatic interactions through the optimum placement of charged amino acid residues within the protein structure, although different design strategies are used in different cases. Other physical mechanisms are also likely to contribute, however optimizing electrostatic interactions offers a simple means of enhancing stability without disrupting the core residues characteristic of different protein families.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.