Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 23646824
J Phys Chem B 2013 Oct;117(42):12742-9
The magnitude and sign of the volume change upon protein unfolding are strongly dependent on temperature. This temperature dependence reflects differences in the thermal expansivity of the folded and unfolded states. The factors that determine protein molar expansivities and the large differences in thermal expansivity for proteins of similar molar volume are not well understood. Model compound studies have suggested that a major contribution is made by differences in the molar volume of water molecules as they transfer from the protein surface to the bulk upon heating. The expansion of internal solvent-excluded voids upon heating is another possible contributing factor. Here, the contribution from hydration density to the molar thermal expansivity of a protein was examined by comparing bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor and variants with alanine substitutions at or near the protein-water interface. Variants of two of these proteins with an additional mutation that unfolded them under native conditions were also examined. A modest decrease in thermal expansivity was observed in both the folded and unfolded states for the alanine variants compared with the parent protein, revealing that large changes can be made to the external polarity of a protein without causing large ensuing changes in thermal expansivity. This modest effect is not surprising, given the small molar volume of the alanine residue. Contributions of the expansion of the internal void volume were probed by measuring the thermal expansion for cavity-containing variants of a highly stable form of staphylococcal nuclease. Significantly larger (2-3-fold) molar expansivities were found for these cavity-containing proteins relative to the reference protein. Taken together, these results suggest that a key determinant of the thermal expansivities of folded proteins lies in the expansion of internal solvent-excluded voids.