The hydrophobic effect and its role in cold denaturation

Cryobiology. 2010 Feb;60(1):91-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cryobiol.2009.07.005. Epub 2009 Jul 17.


The hydrophobic effect is considered the main driving force for protein folding and plays an important role in the stability of those biomolecules. Cold denaturation, where the native state of the protein loses its stability upon cooling, is also attributed to this effect. It is therefore not surprising that a lot of effort has been spent in understanding this phenomenon. Despite these efforts, many unresolved fundamental aspects remain. In this paper we review and summarize the thermodynamics of proteins, the hydrophobic effect and cold denaturation. We start by accounting for these phenomena macroscopically then move to their atomic-level description. We hope this review will help the reader gain insights into the role played by the hydrophobic effect in cold denaturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysics / methods
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Cryopreservation / methods*
  • Cryoprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Models, Molecular
  • Models, Statistical
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Thermodynamics


  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • Polymers
  • Proteins