Unconventional interactions between water and heterocyclic nitrogens in protein structures.

TitleUnconventional interactions between water and heterocyclic nitrogens in protein structures.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsStollar, Elliott J., Gelpí Josep-Lluis, Velankar Sameer, Golovin Adel, Orozco Modesto, and Luisi Ben F.
Date Published2004 Oct 1
KeywordsAmino Acids, Animals, Conserved Sequence, Databases, Drosophila Proteins, Fluorescence, Homeodomain Proteins, Hydrogen Bonding, Imidazoles, Indoles, Nitrogen, Protein, Protein Conformation, Protein Folding, Proteins, Spectrometry, Static Electricity, Thermodynamics, Transcription Factors, Tryptophan, Water

We report an unusual interaction in which a water molecule approaches the heterocyclic nitrogen of tryptophan and histidine along an axis that is roughly perpendicular to the aromatic plane of the side chain. The interaction is distinct from the well-known conventional aromatic hydrogen-bond, and it occurs at roughly the same frequency in protein structures. Calculations indicate that the water-indole interaction is favorable energetically, and we find several cases in which such contacts are conserved among structural orthologs. The indole-water interaction links side chains and peptide backbone in turn regions, connects the side chains in beta-sheets, and bridges secondary elements from different domains. We suggest that the water-indole interaction can be indirectly responsible for the quenching of tryptophan fluorescence that is observed in the folding of homeodomains and, possibly, many other proteins. We also observe a similar interaction between water and the imidazole nitrogens of the histidine side chain. Taken together, these observations suggest that the unconventional water-indole and water-imidazole interactions provide a small but favorable contribution to protein structures.