Electrostatic unfolding and interactions of albumin driven by pH changes: A molecular dynamics study

K. Baler, O. A. Martin, M. A. Carignano, G. A. Ameer, J. A. Vila, I. Szleifer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

137 Scopus citations


A better understanding of protein aggregation is bound to translate into critical advances in several areas, including the treatment of misfolded protein disorders and the development of self-assembling biomaterials for novel commercial applications. Because of its ubiquity and clinical potential, albumin is one of the best-characterized models in protein aggregation research; but its properties in different conditions are not completely understood. Here, we carried out all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of albumin to understand how electrostatics can affect the conformation of a single albumin molecule just prior to self-assembly. We then analyzed the tertiary structure and solvent accessible surface area of albumin after electrostatically triggered partial denaturation. The data obtained from these single protein simulations allowed us to investigate the effect of electrostatic interactions between two proteins. The results of these simulations suggested that hydrophobic attractions and counterion binding may be strong enough to effectively overcome the electrostatic repulsions between the highly charged monomers. This work contributes to our general understanding of protein aggregation mechanisms, the importance of explicit consideration of free ions in protein solutions, provides critical new insights about the equilibrium conformation of albumin in its partially denatured state at low pH, and may spur significant progress in our efforts to develop biocompatible protein hydrogels driven by electrostatic partial denaturation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)921-930
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 30 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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