When the hydrophobic (apolar) and polar moieties of elastomeric polypeptides are properly balanced, the polypeptides are soluble in water at lower temperatures but undergo folding and assembly transitions to increased order on raising the temperature. The temperatures, Tt, and heats, ΔHt, of these inverse temperature transitions are determined by differential scanning calorimetry for a series of elastomeric polypentapeptides: poly(VPAVG), poly(IPAVG), poly(VPGVG), poly(IPGVG), poly[0.5(VPGVG),0.5(IPGVG)] and poly[0.82(IPGVG),0.18(IPGEG)] where V = Val, P = Pro, A = Ala, G = Gly, I = lle and E = Glu.
On increasing the hydrophobicity as when replacing V(Val) by I(lle) which is the addition of one CH2 moiety per pentamer, the temperature of the transition is lowered by 15 to 20°C and the heat of the transition is increased by more than one kcal/mole, for the above examples, by more than a factor of two.
When differential scanning calorimetry thermograms are obtained on mixtures of poly(VPAVG) plus poly(IPAVG) or of poly(VPGVG) plus poly(IPGVG), it is found that the polypentapeptides self-separate, i.e., they de-mix, even though in the latter case the conformations have been shown to be essentially identical before and after their respective transitions.
When the polymer, poly[0.82(IPGVG),0.18(IPGEG)], is studied as a function of pH, increasing the degree of ionization is found to increase the temperature and to decrease the heat of the transition such that, with the correct balance of I with the variable E(GluCOO−), the values of Tt and ΔHt can be made to approach those of poly(VPGVG). Acid-base titration studies indicate that less than one Glu(COO−) in 200 residues can raise the value of Tt by 25°C and decrease ΔHt by 90%.
These and additional data are interpreted to mean that there exists an hierarchical hydrophobic folding, that the hierarchical hydrophobic folding can be modulated by changing the degree of ionization or by changes in a number of intensive variables, that changes in these intensive variables can be used to drive folding/unfolding-assembly/disassembly transitions under isothermal conditions, and that these unfolding/folding and disassembly/assembly transitions can be used to achieve signal transduction. This is called the ΔTt mechanism of free energy (signal) transduction.