Aromatic-aromatic interaction: A mechanism of protein structure stabilization

S. K. Burley, G. A. Petsko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2128 Scopus citations


Analysis of neighboring aromatic groups in four biphenyl peptides or peptide analogs and 34 proteins reveals a specific aromatic-aromatic interaction. Aromatic pairs (<7 Å between phenyl ring centroids) were analyzed for the frequency of pair type, their interaction geometry (separation and dihedral angle), their nonbonded interaction energy, the secondary structural locations of interacting residues, their environment, and their conservation in related molecules. The results indicate that on average about 60 percent of aromatic side chains in proteins are involved in aromatic pairs, 80 percent of which form networks of three or more interacting aromatic side chains. Phenyl ring centroids are separated by a preferential distance of between 4.5 and 7 Å, and dihedral angles approaching 90° are most common. Nonbonded potential energy calculations indicate that a typical aromatic-aromatic interaction has an energy of between -1 and -2 kilocalories per mole. The free energy contribution of the interaction depends on the environment of the aromatic pair. Buried or partially buried pairs constitute 80 percent of the surveyed sample and contribute a free energy of between -0.6 and -1.3 kilocalories per mole to the stability of the protein's structure at physiologic temperature. Of the proteins surveyed, 80 percent of these energetically favorable interactions stabilize tertiary structure, and 20 percent stabilize quaternary structure. Conservation of the interaction in related molecules is particularly striking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
Issue number4708
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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