We studied the cold unfolding of myoglobin with Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and compared it with pressure and heat unfolding. Because protein aggregation is a phenomenon with medical as well as biotechnological implications, we were interested in both the structural changes as well as the aggregation behavior of the respective unfolded states. The cold- and pressure-induced unfolding both yield a partially unfolded state characterized by a persistent amount of secondary structure, in which a stable core of G and H helices is preserved. In this respect the cold- and pressure-unfolded states show a resemblance with an early folding intermediate of myoglobin. In contrast, the heat unfolding results in the formation of the infrared bands typical of intermolecular antiparallel β-sheet aggregation. This implies a transformation of α-helix into intermolecular β-sheet. H/2H-exchange data suggest that the helices are first unfolded and then form intermolecular β-sheets. The pressure and cold unfolded states do not give rise to the intermolecular aggregation bands that are typical for the infrared spectra of many heat-unfolded proteins. This suggests that the pathways of the cold and pressure unfolding are substantially different from that of the heat unfolding. After return to ambient conditions the cold- or pressure-treated proteins adopt a partially refolded conformation. This aggregates at a lower temperature (32°C) than the native state (74°C).
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