Information about the effects of water on protein structure and function can be obtained from studies on freeze dried protein powders of varying water content. Sorption isotherms of water on proteins can be used to obtain thermodynamic quantities for water-protein interactions. Since such isotherms show hysteresis, there is doubt in regard to their interpretation. General expressions for the thermodynamic quantities of sorption are derived. If isotherms represent data at equilibrium, it is possible to calculate these thermodynamic quantities. There are two types of hysteresis, non-equilibrium hysteresis and equilibrium hysteresis. Absorption and desorption isotherms can show equilibrium hysteresis if different protein conformations, which are only slowly interconvertible, can be present. In this case valid thermodynamic quantities can be obtained. Experimental tests for equilibrium hysteresis are presented. More experiments are needed before definite conclusions can be drawn in regard to isotherms in the literature. If the protein conformation in a protein powder is similar to the protein conformation in aqueous solution, equilibrium data obtained from sorption isotherms can be used to approximate thermodynamic quantities for the interaction of water with proteins in aqueous solution. Examination of what experimental evidence is available indicates that the protein in powders prepared by desorption of water should have a conformation similar to that in solution. Further study of such samples will help to clarify the thermodynamics of water-protein interactions in aqueous solution. © 1980.
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