Structural energetics of the molten globule state

Donald T. Haynie, Ernesto Freire

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161 Scopus citations


Certain partly ordered protein conformations, commonly called “moltenglobule states,” are widely believed to represent protein folding intermediates. Recentstructural studies of molten globule states ofdifferent proteins have revealed features whichappear to be general in scope. The emergingconsensus is that these partly ordered forms exhibit a high content of secondary structure, considerable compactness, nonspecific tertiary structure, and significant structural flexibility. These characteristics may be used to define ageneral state of protein folding called “the molten globule state,” which is structurally andthermodynamically distinct from both the native state and the denatured state. Despite exaatensive knowledge of structural features of afew molten globule states, a cogent thermodynamic argument for their stability has not yetbeen advanced. The prevailing opinion of thelast decade was that there is little or no enthalpy difference or heat capacity differencebetween the molten globule state and the unfolded state. This view, however, appears to beat variance with the existing database of protein structural energetics and with recent estimates of the energetics of denaturation of α‐lactalbumin, cytochrome c, apomyoglobin, and T4 lysozyme. We discuss these four proteins at length. The results of structural studies, together with the existing thermodynamic values for fundamental interactions in proteins, provide the foundation for a structural thermodynamic framework which can account for the observed behavior of molten globule states. Within this framework, we analyze the physical basis for both the high stability of several molten globule states and the low probability of other protential folding intermediates. Additionally, we consider, in terms of reduced enthalpy changes and disrupted cooperative interactions, the thermodynamic basis for the apparent absence of a thermally induced, cooperative unfolding transition for some molten globule states. © 1993 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-140
Number of pages26
JournalProteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1993


  • cytochrome c
  • molten globule state
  • protein folding intermediates
  • secondary structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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