Probing the binding behavior and conformational states of globular proteins in reversed-phased high-performance liquid chromatography

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Reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) is a widely used technique for the separation of proteins under low pH aquo- organic solvent gradient elution conditions, typically carried out at ambient temperatures. These conditions can however induce conformational effects with proteins as evident from changes in their biological or immunological activities. By monitoring the influence of temperature on the retention and band-broadening characteristics of proteins, the role of conformational processes in these lipophilic environments can be examined. These processes can then be interpreted in terms of a two-state model involving a native (N) and a fully unfolded species (U) or more complex folding/unfolding models. In the present study, the gradient elution RP-HPLC behavior of sperm whale myoglobin (SWMYO) and hen egg white lysozyme (HEWL) has been investigated at temperatures between 5 and 85 °C with n-octadecyl (C18)- and n-butyl (C4)-silica reversed-phase sorbents. The interaction of these proteins with these reversed-phase sorbents has also been examined in terms of the contributions that the heme prosthetic group of SWMYO and the disulfide bonds in HEWL make to the stabilization of the native conformation of these proteins in these hydrophobic environments. The observed interconversions of multiple peak zones of SWMYO and HEWL in the presence of C18 and C4 ligands have been subsequently analyzed in terms of the unfolding processes that these proteins can undergo at low pH and at elevated temperatures. The ability of hydrocarbonaceous ligands to trap ensemblies of partially unfolded conformational intermediates of proteins in these perturbing environments has been examined. Pseudo-first-order rate constants have been derived for these processes from analysis of the dependencies on time of the concentration of the different protein species at specified temperatures. The relationship of these processes to the conformational transitions that these proteins can undergo via molten globule-like intermediates (i.e., compact denatured states with a significant amount of residual secondary structure) in solution has also been examined. This study thus further documents an experimental strategy to assess the folding/unfolding behavior of globular proteins in the presence of hydrophobic surfaces and aquo-organic solvents, whereby the system parameters can potentially affect the preservation of native conformations, and thus the function, of the protein under these conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2440-2451
Number of pages12
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 1999

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