Physical Chemistry of the Protein Backbone: Enabling the Mechanisms of Intrinsic Protein Disorder

Justin A. Drake, Justin A. Drake, B. Montgomery Pettitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last two decades it has become clear that well-defined structure is not a requisite for proteins to properly function. Rather, spectra of functionally competent, structurally disordered states have been uncovered requiring canonical paradigms in molecular biology to be revisited or reimagined. It is enticing and oftentimes practical to divide the proteome into structured and unstructured, or disordered, proteins. While function, composition, and structural properties largely differ, these two classes of protein are built upon the same scaffold, namely, the protein backbone. The versatile physicochemical properties of the protein backbone must accommodate structural disorder, order, and transitions between these states. In this review, we survey these properties through the conceptual lenses of solubility and conformational populations and in the context of protein-disorder mediated phenomena (e.g., phase separation, order-disorder transitions, allostery). Particular attention is paid to the results of computational studies, which, through thermodynamic decomposition and dissection of molecular interactions, can provide valuable mechanistic insight and testable hypotheses to guide further solution experiments. Lastly, we discuss changes in the dynamics of side chains and order-disorder transitions of the protein backbone as two modes or realizations of "entropic reservoirs"capable of tuning coupled thermodynamic processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4379-4390
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 4 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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