Are aromatic carbon donor hydrogen bonds linear in proteins?

Vikas Nanda, Ann Schmiedekamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Proteins fold and maintain structure through the collective contributions of a large number of weak, noncovalent interactions. The hydrogen bond is one important category of forces that acts on very short distances. As our knowledge of protein structure continues to expand, we are beginning to appreciate the role that weak carbon-donor hydrogen bonds play in structure and function. One property that differentiates hydrogen bonds from other packing forces is propensity for forming a linear donor-hydrogen-acceptor orientation. To ascertain if carbon-donor hydrogen bonds are able to direct acceptor linearity, we surveyed the geometry of interactions specifically involving aromatic sidechain ring carbons in a data set of high resolution protein structures. We found that while donor-acceptor distances for most carbon donor hydrogen bonds were tighter than expected for van der Waals packing, only the carbons of histidine showed a significant bias for linear geometry. By categorizing histidines in the data set into charged and neutral sidechains, we found only the charged subset of histidines participated in linear interactions. B3LYP/6-31G**++ level optimizations of imidazole and indole-water interactions at various fixed angles demonstrates a clear orientation dependence of hydrogen bonding capacity for both charged and neutral sidechains. We suggest that while all aromatic carbons can participate in hydrogen bonding, only charged histidines are able to overcome protein packing forces and enforce linear interactions. The implications for protein modeling and design are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-497
Number of pages9
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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