A Physical Mechanism Underlying the Increase of Aqueous Solubility of Nonpolar Compounds and the Denaturation of Proteins upon Cooling

Physics – Condensed Matter – Soft Condensed Matter

Scientific paper

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20 pages, 6 figures

Scientific paper

The increase of aqueous solubility of nonpolar compounds upon cooling and the cold denaturation of proteins are established experimental facts. Both phenomena have been hypothesized to be related to restructuring of the hydrogen bond network of water around small nonpolar solutes or hydrophobic amino acid side chains. However, an underlying physical mechanism has yet to be identified. We assume the solute particles and the monomers of a polymer interact via a hard sphere potential. We further assume that the solvent molecules interact via the two-scale spherically symmetric Jagla potential, which qualitatively reproduces the anomalies of water, such as expansion on cooling. We find that this model correctly predicts the increase in solubility of nonpolar compounds and the swelling of polymers on cooling. Our findings are consistent with the possibility that the presence of two length scales in the Jagla potential--a rigid hard core and a more flexible soft core--is responsible for both phenomena. At low temperatures, the solvent particles prefer to remain at the soft core distance, leaving enough space for small nonpolar solutes to enter the solvent thus increasing solubility. We support this hypothesized mechanism by molecular dynamic simulations.

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