Compatible solutes: Thermodynamic properties and biological impact of ectoines and prolines

Biophys Chem. 2010 Nov;152(1-3):28-39. doi: 10.1016/j.bpc.2010.07.003. Epub 2010 Aug 3.


Compatible solutes like ectoine and its derivatives are deployed by halophile organisms as osmolytes to sustain the high salt concentration in the environment. This work investigates the relation of the thermodynamic properties of compatible solutes and their impact as osmolytes. The ectoines considered in this work are ectoine, hydroxyectoine, and homoectoine. Besides solution densities (15-45°C) and solubilities in water (3-80°C), component activity coefficients in the aqueous solutions were determined in the temperature range between 0 and 50°C. The latter is important for adjusting a certain water activity and therewith a respective osmotic pressure within a cell. The characteristic effect of ectoines is compared to that of prolines, as well as to that of incompatible solutes as salts and urea. The experimental results show that the influence on the activity (coefficient) of water is quite different for compatible and incompatible solutes: whereas compatible solutes cause decreasing water activity coefficients, incompatible solutes lead to an increase in water activity coefficients. Based on this quantity, the paper discusses the impact of various osmolytes on biological systems and contributes to the explanation why some osmolytes are more often and at other temperatures used than others. Moreover, it was found that the anti-stress effect of an osmolyte is weakened in the presence of a salt. Finally, it is shown that the thermodynamic properties of compatible solutes can be modeled and even predicted using the thermodynamic model PC-SAFT (Perturbed-Chain Statistical Associating Fluid Theory).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Diamino / chemistry*
  • Osmotic Pressure
  • Proline / chemistry*
  • Salts / chemistry
  • Solubility
  • Solutions / chemistry
  • Temperature
  • Thermodynamics
  • Urea / chemistry
  • Water / chemistry


  • Amino Acids, Diamino
  • Salts
  • Solutions
  • hydroxyectoine
  • Water
  • ectoine
  • Urea
  • Proline