Polymorphic assemblies of double strands of sickle cell hemoglobin. Manifold pathways of deoxyhemoglobin S crystallization

Thomas E. Wellems*, Robert J. Vassar, Robert Josephs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Crystallization of sickle cell hemoglobin proceeds by distinctive pathways which depend upon the pH and the ionic composition of the crystallizing milieu. The pathways differ in that after fibers form they associate into different intermediates which then crystallize. We term the pathways "high pH" and "low pH". The value of the transition pH between the high pH and low pH pathways depends upon the specific ionic species present in the hemoglobin solution. Over the pH range studied the mechanism of crystallization is pH-dependent but the structure of the crystals ultimately formed is not. In this paper we describe two newly discovered intermediates involved in the crystallization of deoxyhemoglobin S via the low pH pathway. The first of these consists of a class of particles we call macrofibers. Optical diffraction patterns of fibers and macrofibers have similar intensity distributions and layer-line spacings suggesting that macrofibers and fibers are assembled from a common structural unit which we take to be the Wishner-Love double strand. The second new structure is a paracrystalline form of deoxyhemoglobin S. The paracrystal is built from layers of double strands of molecules in an arrangement similar to that within the crystals. Optical diffraction of electron micrographs of paracrystals reveals that longitudinal disorder is present between double strands. Projections of the electron density down the c axis of the crystal provide images very similar to those in electron micrographs of negatively stained paracrystals. The patterns appearing in the paracrystal due to the disorder can be fully simulated by shifts between the layers of double strands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1011-1026
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 25 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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