We attempt to understand the origin of enhanced stability in thermophilic proteins by analyzing thermodynamic data for 116 proteins, the largest data set achieved to date. We compute changes in entropy and enthalpy at the convergence temperature where different driving forces are maximally decoupled, in contrast to the majority of previous studies that were performed at the melting temperature. We find, on average, that the gain in enthalpy upon folding is lower in thermophiles than in mesophiles, whereas the loss in entropy upon folding is higher in mesophiles than in thermophiles. This implies that entropic stabilization may be responsible for the high melting temperature, and hints at residual structure or compactness of the denatured state in thermophiles. We find a similar trend by analyzing a homologous set of proteins classified based only on the optimum growth temperature of the organisms from which they were extracted. We find that the folding free energy at the temperature of maximal stability is significantly more favorable in thermophiles than in mesophiles, whereas the maximal stability temperature itself is similar between these two classes. Furthermore, we extend the thermodynamic analysis to model the entire proteome. The results explain the high optimal growth temperature in thermophilic organisms and are in excellent quantitative agreement with full thermal growth rate data obtained in a dozen thermophilic and mesophilic organisms.
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