Issue 30, 2022

Deep sea osmolytes in action: their effect on protein–ligand binding under high pressure stress


Because organisms living in the deep sea and in the sub-seafloor must be able to cope with hydrostatic pressures up to 1000 bar and more, their biomolecular processes, including ligand-binding reactions, must be adjusted to keep the associated volume changes low in order to function efficiently. Almost all organisms use organic cosolvents (osmolytes) to protect their cells from adverse environmental conditions. They counteract osmotic imbalance, stabilize the structure of proteins and maintain their function. We studied the binding properties of the prototypical ligand proflavine to two serum proteins with different binding pockets, BSA and HSA, in the presence of two prominent osmolytes, trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) and glycine betaine (GB). TMAO and GB play an important role in the regulation and adaptation of life in deep-sea organisms. To this end, pressure dependent fluorescence spectroscopy was applied, supplemented by circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy and computer modeling studies. The pressure-dependent measurements were also performed to investigate the intimate nature of the complex formation in relation to hydration and packing changes caused by the presence of the osmolytes. We show that TMAO and GB are able to modulate the ligand binding process in specific ways. Depending on the chemical make-up of the protein's binding pocket and thus the thermodynamic forces driving the binding process, there are osmolytes with specific interaction sites and binding strengths with water that are able to mediate efficient ligand binding even under external stress conditions. In the binding of proflavine to BSA and HSA, the addition of both compatible osmolytes leads to an increase in the binding constant upon pressurization, with TMAO being the most efficient, rendering the binding process also insensitive to pressurization even up to 2 kbar as the volume change remains close to zero. This effect can be corroborated by the effects the cosolvents impose on the strength and dynamics of hydration water as well as on the conformational dynamics of the protein.

Graphical abstract: Deep sea osmolytes in action: their effect on protein–ligand binding under high pressure stress

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Article information

Article type
16 Apr 2022
23 Jun 2022
First published
24 Jun 2022
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2022,24, 17966-17978

Deep sea osmolytes in action: their effect on protein–ligand binding under high pressure stress

A. Kamali, N. Jahmidi-Azizi, R. Oliva and R. Winter, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2022, 24, 17966 DOI: 10.1039/D2CP01769E

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