Elucidation of Factors Responsible for Enhanced Thermal Stability of Proteins:  A Structural Genomics Based Study

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Understanding the molecular basis for the enhanced stability of proteins from thermophiles has been hindered by a lack of structural data for homologous pairs of proteins from thermophiles and mesophiles. To overcome this difficulty, complete genome sequences from 9 thermophilic and 21 mesophilic bacterial genomes were aligned with protein sequences with known structures from the protein data bank. Sequences with high homology to proteins with known structures were chosen for further analysis. High quality models of these chosen sequences were obtained using homology modeling. The current study is based on a data set of models of 900 mesophilic and 300 thermophilic protein single chains and also includes 178 templates of known structure. Structural comparisons of models of homologous proteins allowed several factors responsible for enhanced thermostability to be identified. Several statistically signficant, specific amino acid substitutions that occur going from mesophiles to thermophiles are identified. Most of these are at solvent-exposed sites. Salt bridges occur significantly more often in thermophiles. The additional salt bridges in thermophiles are almost exclusively in solvent-exposed regions, and 35% are in the same element of secondary structure. Helices in thermophiles are stabilized by intrahelical salt bridges and by an increase in negative charge at the N-terminus. There is an approximate decrease of 1% in the overall loop content and a corresponding increase in helical content in thermophiles. Previously overlooked cation−π interactions, estimated to be twice as strong as ion-pairs, are significantly enriched in thermophiles. At buried sites, statistically significant hydrophobic amino acid substitutions are typically consistent with decreased side chain conformational entropy.

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