A solution equivalent of the 2Zn----4Zn transformation of insulin in the crystal

Eur J Biochem. 1984 Jul 2;142(1):7-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-1033.1984.tb08243.x.


Circular dichroic spectroscopy clearly reveals a solvent-induced conformational change of insulin in the presence of zinc ions. The spectral change corresponds to an increase in helix content. The transition observed in solution is an equivalent of the 2Zn----4Zn insulin transformation in the crystal. This is inferred from a series of observations. (1) The spectral effects are compatible with the refolding of the B-chain N-terminus into a helix known from crystal studies. (2) The spectral effects are induced by the very same conditions which are known to induce the 2Zn----4Zn insulin transformation in the crystal (i.e. threshold concentrations of NaCl, KSCN, NaI, for example). (3) They fail to be induced by the same conditions that fail to induce the crystal transformation (e.g. Ni2+ instead of Zn2+). It is concluded that the potential to undergo the transition resides in the hexamer since neither insulin dimers nor monomeric des-pentapeptideB26-30-insulin respond detectably to high halide concentration. Secondly the ability of zinc ions to accommodate tetrahedral coordination allows the transition which is not permitted by other divalent metal ions. Thirdly the transition is independent of the off-axial tetrahedral zinc coordination sites since it occurs in [AlaB5]insulin which lacks the B5 histidine necessary for their formation. A symmetrically rearranged hexamer thus appears possible with two tetrahedrally coordinated zinc ions on the threefold axis; this is consistent with the observation that in native insulin two zinc ions per hexamer are sufficient to produce the full spectral effect. The amount of additional helix derived from the circular dichroic spectral change, however, cannot settle whether the transition comprises only three or all six of the subunits to yield a symmetrical hexamer. Finally the transformation in solution evidently still occurs in an intramolecularly A1-B29-cross-linked insulin in spite of the partially reduced flexibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry, Physical
  • Circular Dichroism
  • Crystallization
  • Humans
  • Insulin / analysis*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Swine
  • Zinc*


  • Insulin
  • Zinc