Molecular mechanisms of cryoprotection in aqueous proline: Light scattering and molecular dynamics simulations

R. Z. Troitzsch, H. Vass, W. J. Hossack, G. J. Martyna, J. Crain

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Free proline amino acid is a natural cryoprotectant expressed by numerous organisms under low-temperature stress. Previous reports have suggested that complex assemblies underlie its functional properties. We investigate here aqueous proline solutions as a function of temperature using combinations of Raman spectroscopy, Rayleigh-Brillouin light scattering, and molecular dynamics simulations with the view to revealing the molecular origins of the mixtures' functionality as a cryoprotectant. The evolution of the Brillouin frequency shifts and line widths with temperature shows that, above a critical proline concentration, the water-like dynamics is suppressed and viscoelastic behavior emerges: Here, the Landau-Placzek ratio also shows a temperature-independent maximum arising from concentration fluctuations. Molecular dynamics simulations reveal that the water-water correlations in the mixtures depend much more weakly on temperature than does bulk water. By contrast, the water OH Raman bands exhibit strong red-shifts on cooling similar to those seen in ices; however, no evidence of ice lattice phonons is observed in the low-frequency spectrum. We attribute this primarily to enhanced proline-water hydrogen bonding. In general, the picture that emerges is that aqueous proline is a heterogeneous mixture on molecular length scales (characterized by significant concentration fluctuations rather than well-defined aggregates). Simulations reveal that proline also appears to suppress the normal dependence of water structure on temperature and preserves the ambient-temperature correlations even in very cold solutions. The water structure in cold proline solutions therefore appears to be similar to that at a higher effective temperature. This,. coupled with the emergence of glassy dynamics offers a molecular explanation for the functional properties of proline as a cryoprotectant without the need to invoke previously proposed complex aggregates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4290-4297
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B (Soft Condensed Matter and Biophysical Chemistry)
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2008



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