Journal of the American Chemical Society

Protein stabilization by macromolecular crowding through enthalpy rather than entropy.

PMID 24888734


The interior of the cell is a densely crowded environment in which protein stability is affected differently than in dilute solution. Macromolecular crowding is commonly understood in terms of an entropic volume exclusion effect based on hardcore repulsions among the macromolecules. We studied the thermal unfolding of ubiquitin in the presence of different cosolutes (glucose, dextran, poly(ethylene glycol), KCl, urea). Our results show that for a correct dissection of the cosolute-induced changes of the free energy into its enthalpic and entropic contributions, the temperature dependence of the heat capacity change needs to be explicitly taken into account. In contrast to the prediction by the excluded volume theory, we observed an enthalpic stabilization and an entropic destabilization for glucose, dextran, and poly(ethylene glycol). The enthalpic stabilization mechanism induced by the macromolecular crowder dextran was similar to the enthalpic stabilization mechanism of its monomeric building block glucose. In the case of poly(ethylene glycol), entropy is dominating over enthalpy leading to an overall destabilization. We propose a new model to classify cosolute effects in terms of their enthalpic contributions to protein stability.