Salt induced stabilization of apoflavodoxin at neutral pH is mediated through cation specific effects
Electrostatic contributions to the conformational stability of apoflavodoxin were studied by measurement of the proton and salt-linked stability of this highly acidic protein with urea and temperature denaturation. Structure-based calculations of electrostatic Gibbs free energy were performed in parallel over a range of pH values and salt concentrations with an empirical continuum method. The stability of apoflavodoxin was higher near the isoelectric point (pH 4) than at neutral pH. This behavior was captured quantitatively by the structure-based calculations. In addition. the calculations showed that increasing salt concentration in the range of 0 to 500 mM stabilized the protein, which was confirmed experimentally. The effects of salts on stability were strongly dependent on cationic species: K+, Na+, Ca2+, and Mg2+ exerted similar effects, much different from the effect measured in the presence of the bulky choline cation. Thus cations bind weakly to the negatively charged surface of apoflavodoxin. The similar magnitude of the effects exerted by different cations indicates that their hydration shells are not disrupted significantly by interactions with the protein. Site-directed mutagenesis of selected residues and the analysis of truncation variants indicate that cation binding is not site-specific and that the cation-binding regions are located in the central region of the protein sequence. Three-state analysis of the thermal denaturation indicates that the equilibrium intermediate populated during thermal unfolding is competent to bind cations. The unusual increase in the stability of apoflavodoxin at neutral pH affected by salts is likely to be a common property among highly acidic proteins.