Cells of the vast majority of organisms are subject to temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, and other stresses. We discuss these effects in the light of protein folding and protein interactions in vitro, in complex environments, in cells, and in vivo. Protein phase diagrams provide a way of organizing different structural ensembles that occur under stress and how one can move among ensembles. Experiments that perturb biomolecules in vitro or in cells by stressing them have revealed much about the underlying forces that are competing to control protein stability, folding, and function. Two phenomena that emerge and serve to broadly classify effects of the cellular environment are crowding (mainly due to repulsive forces) and sticking (mainly due to attractive forces). The interior of cells is closely balanced between these emergent effects, and stress can tip the balance one way or the other. The free energy scale involved is small but significant on the scale of the "on/off switches" that control signaling in cells or of protein-protein association with a favorable function such as increased enzyme processivity. Quantitative tools from biophysical chemistry will play an important role in elucidating the world of crowding and sticking under stress.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films
- Materials Chemistry