Anchored clathrate waters bind antifreeze proteins to ice

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 May 3;108(18):7363-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1100429108. Epub 2011 Apr 11.


The mechanism by which antifreeze proteins (AFPs) irreversibly bind to ice has not yet been resolved. The ice-binding site of an AFP is relatively hydrophobic, but also contains many potential hydrogen bond donors/acceptors. The extent to which hydrogen bonding and the hydrophobic effect contribute to ice binding has been debated for over 30 years. Here we have elucidated the ice-binding mechanism through solving the first crystal structure of an Antarctic bacterial AFP. This 34-kDa domain, the largest AFP structure determined to date, folds as a Ca(2+)-bound parallel beta-helix with an extensive array of ice-like surface waters that are anchored via hydrogen bonds directly to the polypeptide backbone and adjacent side chains. These bound waters make an excellent three-dimensional match to both the primary prism and basal planes of ice and in effect provide an extensive X-ray crystallographic picture of the AFPice interaction. This unobstructed view, free from crystal-packing artefacts, shows the contributions of both the hydrophobic effect and hydrogen bonding during AFP adsorption to ice. We term this mode of binding the "anchored clathrate" mechanism of AFP action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antifreeze Proteins / chemistry
  • Antifreeze Proteins / metabolism*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Ice*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Phase Transition
  • Protein Binding / physiology*
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Temperature


  • Antifreeze Proteins
  • Ice

Associated data

  • PDB/3P4G