We have studied the thermodynamics of the interaction between the ribonuclease barnase and its natural polypeptide inhibitor barstar. The contribution of specific residues and interactions within the barnase-barstar interface to the enthalpy of binding has been examined using isothermal titration calorimetry and protein engineering. The enthalpy of association of the wild-type proteins is -18.9 (± 0.1) kcal/mol at pH 8 and at 25°C. The enthalpy of binding remains favourable for 31 different combinations of mutations in the interface. The effects on the binding enthalpy upon replacing a side-chain involved in the interaction of barnase and barstar are, however, always unfavourable and in most cases larger than the effects on the free energy of binding. Interaction enthalpies calculated by double mutant cycle analysis are in some cases much larger than the interaction free energies. The interaction enthalpies for complexes between different barnase mutants with amino acid substitutions of the general base residue glutamic acid 73 and a barstar variant (D39A) vary by as much as 8.3 kcal/mol while the coupling free energies differ only by 1 kcal/mol. The use of enthalpies for the analysis of structure-activity relationships appears to be complicated by enthalpy-entropy compensation of weak intermolecular interactions. These tend to cancel out in measurements of free energy, which is thus the preferred quantity for simple analysis of interactions.
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