Mimicry of ice structure by surface hydroxyls and water of a beta-helix antifreeze protein

Nature. 2000 Jul 20;406(6793):322-4. doi: 10.1038/35018604.


Insect antifreeze proteins (AFP) are much more effective than fish AFPs at depressing solution freezing points by ice-growth inhibition. AFP from the beetle Tenebrio molitor is a small protein (8.4 kDa) composed of tandem 12-residue repeats (TCTxSxxCxxAx). Here we report its 1.4-A resolution crystal structure, showing that this repetitive sequence translates into an exceptionally regular beta-helix. Not only are the 12-amino-acid loops almost identical in the backbone, but also the conserved side chains are positioned in essentially identical orientations, making this AFP perhaps the most regular protein structure yet observed. The protein has almost no hydrophobic core but is stabilized by numerous disulphide and hydrogen bonds. On the conserved side of the protein, threonine-cysteine-threonine motifs are arrayed to form a flat beta-sheet, the putative ice-binding surface. The threonine side chains have exactly the same rotameric conformation and the spacing between OH groups is a near-perfect match to the ice lattice. Together with tightly bound co-planar external water, three ranks of oxygen atoms form a two-dimensional array, mimicking an ice section.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Freezing
  • Glycoproteins / chemistry*
  • Hydrolysis
  • Ice*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Mimicry
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Surface Properties
  • Tenebrio
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Ice
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Water

Associated data

  • PDB/1EZG