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Charge Interactions in a Highly Charge-depleted Protein

By Stefan Hervø-Hansen, Casper Højgaard, Kristoffer Enøe Johansson, Yong Wang, Khadija Wahni, David Young, Joris Messens, Kaare Teilum, Kresten Lindorff-Larsen, Jakob Rahr Winther

Posted 27 Jun 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.26.173278

Interactions between charged residues are difficult to study because of the complex network of interactions found in most proteins. We have designed a purposely simple system to investigate this problem by systematically introducing individual and pairs of charged and titratable residues in a protein otherwise free of such residues. We used constant pH molecular dynamics simulations, NMR spectroscopy, and thermodynamic double mutant cycles to probe the structure and energetics of the interaction between the charged residues. We found that the partial burial of surface charges contributes to a shift in p K a value, causing an aspartate to titrate in the neutral pH range. Additionally, the interaction between pairs of residues was found to be highly context dependent, with some pairs having no apparent preferential interaction, while other pairs would engage in coupled titration forming a highly stabilized salt bridge. We find good agreement between experiments and simulations, and use the simulations to rationalize our observations and to provide a detailed mechanistic understanding of the electrostatic interactions. Significance Electrostatic forces are important for protein folding and are favored targets of protein engineering. However, despite the many advances in the field of protein electrostatics, the prediction of changes in protein structure and function upon introduction or removal of titratable residues is still complicated. In order to provide a basic understanding of protein electrostatics we here characterize a highly charge-depleted protein and its titratable variants by a combination of NMR spectroscopy and constant pH molecular dynamics simulations. Our investigations reveal how strongly interacting residues engaged in salt bridging, can be characterized. Furthermore, our study may also enrich and facilitate the understanding of dehydration of salt-bridges and its potential effect on protein stability. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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