Chemistry of hofmeister anions and osmolytes

Yanjie Zhang, Paul S. Cremer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

536 Scopus citations


The study of the interactions of salts and osmolytes with macromolecules in aqueous solution originated with experiments concerning protein precipitation more than 100 years ago. Today, these solutes are known to display recurring behavior for myriad biological and chemical processes. Such behavior depends both on the nature and concentration of the species in solution. Despite the generality of these effects, our understanding of the molecular-level details of ion and osmolyte specificity is still quite limited. Here, we review recent studies of the interactions between anions and urea with model macromolecular systems. A mechanism for specific ion effects is elucidated for aqueous systems containing charged and uncharged polymers, polypeptides, and proteins. The results clearly show that the effects of the anions are local and involve direct interactions with macromolecules and their first hydration shell. Also, a hydrogen-bonding mechanism is tested for the urea denaturation of proteins with some of these same systems. In that case, direct hydrogen bonding can be largely discounted as the key mechanism for urea stabilization of uncollapsed and/or unfolded structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-83
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Physical Chemistry
StatePublished - May 5 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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