Mapping electrostatic interactions in macromolecular associations

Karla K. Rodgers, Stephen G. Sligar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the association of electron transfer proteins, electrostatics has been proposed to play a role in maintaining the stability and specificity of the biomolecular complexes formed. An excellent model system is the interaction between mammalian cytochrome b5 and cytochrome c, in which the X-ray structures of the individual components reveal a complementary asymmetry of charges surrounding their respective redox centers. Determining the exact extent of the electrostatic interactions and identifying the specific residues involved in the formation of the electron transfer complex has proved more elusive. We report herein the utilization of high-pressure techniques, together with site-directed mutagenesis, to provide a map of the interaction domains in biomolecular complex formation. The application of high pressure disrupts macromolecular associations since dissociation of the complex results in a decreased volume of the system due to the solvation of charges that had been previously sequestered in the interface region and force solvation of hydrophobic surfaces. Site-directed mutagenesis of a totally synthetic gene for rat liver cytochrome b5, which expresses this mammalian protein in Escherichia coli as a hemecontaining soluble component, was used to selectively alter negatively charged residues of cytochrome b5 to neutral amide side-chains. We have demonstrated that the interaction domain of cytochrome b5 with cytochrome c can be mapped from a comparison of dissociation volumes of these modified cytochrome b5-cytochrome c complexes with the native complex. Using these techniques we can specifically investigate the role of particular residues in the equilibrium association of these two electron transfer proteins. Single-point mutations in the interaction domain give nearly identical effects on the measured dissociation volumes, yet removal of acidic residues outside the recognition surface yield volumes similar to wild-type protein. Multiple mutations in the proposed protein-protein interaction site are found to allow greater solvent-accessibility of the interface as reflected in a diminution in the volume changes on subsequent charge removal. This is indicative that the interprotein salt-bridges in this complex provide a mechanism for a greater exclusion of solvent from the interfacial domain of the complex, resulting in a more stable association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1453-1460
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 20 1991


  • cytochrome b
  • cytochrome c
  • electrostatics
  • pressure
  • volume changes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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