The temperature dependence of the Hofmeister series: thermodynamic fingerprints of cosolute–protein interactions
The Hofmeister series is a universal homologous series to rank ion-specific effects on biomolecular properties such as protein stability or aggregation propensity. Although this ranking is widely used, outliers and exceptions are discussed controversially and a molecular level understanding is still lacking. Studying the thermal unfolding equilibrium of RNase A, we here show that this ambiguity arises from the oversimplified approach to determine the ion rankings. Instead of measuring salt effects on a single point of the protein folding stability curve (e.g. the melting point Tm), we here consider the salt induced shifts of the entire protein ‘stability curve’ (the temperature dependence of the unfolding free energy change, ΔGu(T)). We found multiple intersections of these curves, pinpointing a widely ignored fact: the Hofmeister cation and anion rankings are temperature dependent. We further developed a novel classification scheme of cosolute effects based on their thermodynamic fingerprints, reaching beyond salt effects to non-electrolytes.