We review the results of compressibility studies on proteins and low molecular weight compounds that model the hydration properties of these biopolymers. In particular, we present an analysis of compressibility changes accompanying conformational transitions of globular proteins. This analysis, in conjunction with experimental compressibility data on protein transitions, were used to define the changes in the hydration properties and intrinsic packing associated with native-to-molten globule, native-to-partially unfolded, and native-to-fully unfolded transitions of globular proteins. In addition, we discuss the molecular origins of predominantly positive changes in compressibility observed for pressure-induced denaturation transitions of globular proteins. Throughout this review, we emphasize the importance of compressibility data for characterizing protein transitions, while also describing how such data can be interpreted to gain insight into role that hydration and intrinsic packing play in modulating the stability of and recognition between proteins and other biologically important compounds. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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