Backbone dipoles generate positive potentials in all proteins: Origins and implications of the effect

Marilyn R. Gunner, Mohammad A. Saleh, Elizabeth Cross, Asif Ud-Doula, Michael Wise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Asymmetry in packing the peptide amide dipole results in larger positive than negative regions in proteins of all folding motifs. The average side chain potential in 305 proteins is 109 ± 30 mV (2.5 ± 0.7 kcal/mol/e). Because the backbone has zero net charge, the non-zero potential is unexpected. The larger oxygen at the negative and smaller proton at the positive end of the amide dipole yield positive potentials because: 1) at allowed phi and psi angles residues come off the backbone into the positive end of their own amide dipole, avoiding the large oxygen; and 2) amide dipoles with their carbonyl oxygen surface exposed and amine proton buried make the protein interior more positive. Twice as many amides have their oxygens exposed than their amine protons. The distribution of acidic and basic residues shows the importance of the bias toward positive backbone potentials. Thirty percent of the Asp, Glu, Lys, and Arg are buried. Sixty percent of buried residues are acids, only 40% bases. The positive backbone potential stabilizes ionization of 20% of the acids by >3 pH units (-4.1 kcal/mol). Only 6.5% of the bases are equivalently stabilized by negative regions. The backbone stabilizes bound anions such as phosphates and rarely stabilizes bound cations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1126-1144
Number of pages19
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics


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