Background: Binding of proteins in ion exchange chromatography is dominated by electrostatic interactions and can be tuned by adjusting pH and ionic strength of the solvent. Therefore, the isoelectric region (IER), the pH region of almost zero charge near the pI, has been used to predict the binding properties of proteins.
Principal findings: Usually the IER is small and binding and elution is carried out at pH values near to the pI. However, some proteins with an extended IER have been shown to bind and elute far away from its pI. To analyze factors that mediate the size of the IER and to identify proteins with an extended IER, two protein families consisting of more than 7000 proteins were systematically investigated. Most proteins were found to have a small IER and thus are expected to bind or elute near to their pI, while only a small fraction of less than 2% had a large IER.
Conclusions: Only four factors, the number of histidines, the pI, the number of titratable amino acids and the ratio of acidic to basic residues, are sufficient to reliably classify proteins by their IER based on their sequence only, and thus to predict their binding and elution behaviour in ion exchange chromatography.