Evolutionarily Conserved Pattern of Interactions in a Protein Revealed by Local Thermal Expansion Properties

J Am Chem Soc. 2015 Jul 29;137(29):9354-62. doi: 10.1021/jacs.5b04320. Epub 2015 Jul 16.


The way in which the network of intramolecular interactions determines the cooperative folding and conformational dynamics of a protein remains poorly understood. High-pressure NMR spectroscopy is uniquely suited to examine this problem because it combines the site-specific resolution of the NMR experiments with the local character of pressure perturbations. Here we report on the temperature dependence of the site-specific volumetric properties of various forms of staphylococcal nuclease (SNase), including three variants with engineered internal cavities, as measured with high-pressure NMR spectroscopy. The strong temperature dependence of pressure-induced unfolding arises from poorly understood differences in thermal expansion between the folded and unfolded states. A significant inverse correlation was observed between the global thermal expansion of the folded proteins and the number of strong intramolecular hydrogen bonds, as determined by the temperature coefficient of the backbone amide chemical shifts. Comparison of the identity of these strong H-bonds with the co-evolution of pairs of residues in the SNase protein family suggests that the architecture of the interactions detected in the NMR experiments could be linked to a functional aspect of the protein. Moreover, the temperature dependence of the residue-specific volume changes of unfolding yielded residue-specific differences in expansivity and revealed how mutations impact intramolecular interaction patterns. These results show that intramolecular interactions in the folded states of proteins impose constraints against thermal expansion and that, hence, knowledge of site-specific thermal expansivity offers insight into the patterns of strong intramolecular interactions and other local determinants of protein stability, cooperativity, and potentially also of function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amides / chemistry
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Micrococcal Nuclease / chemistry*
  • Micrococcal Nuclease / metabolism*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Pressure
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Unfolding
  • Protons
  • Temperature*


  • Amides
  • Protons
  • Micrococcal Nuclease