denaturation, term used to describe the loss of native, higher-order structure of protein molecules in solution. Most globular proteins exhibit complicated three-dimensional folding described as secondary, tertiary, and quarternary structures. These conformations of the protein molecule are rather fragile, and any factor that alters the precise geometry is said to cause denaturation. Extensive unfolding sometimes causes precipitation of the protein from solution. Denaturation is defined as a major change from the original native state without alteration of the molecule's primary structure, i.e., without cleavage of any of the primary chemical bonds that link one amino acid to another. Treatment of proteins with strong acids or bases, high concentrations of inorganic salts or organic solvents (e.g., alcohol or chloroform), heat, or irradiation all produce denaturation to a variable degree. Loss of three-dimmensional structure usually produces a loss of biological activity. Thus, the denatured enzyme is often without catalytic function. Renaturation is accomplished with varying success, and occasionally with a return of biological function, by exposing the denatured protein to a solution that approximates normal physiological conditions. Denaturation may be studied in the laboratory in any number of ways that monitor the physical properties of protein. Thus measurements of changing viscosity, density, light-scattering ability, and movement in an electrical field all record slight changes in molecular architecture. Denaturing is also used to describe the unrelated process of adding a poisonous substance to ethanol to make it unsuitable for human consumption.

Biochemical process modifying a protein's natural configuration. It involves breaking many weak (hydrogen and hydrophobic) bonds (see bonding) that maintain the protein's highly ordered structure. This usually results in loss of biological activity (e.g., loss of an enzyme's ability to catalyze reactions). Denaturation can be brought about by heating; treatment with alkalis, acids, urea, or detergents; or even vigorous shaking of the protein solution. It can be reversed in some cases (e.g., serum albumin, hemoglobin), if conditions favourable to the protein are restored, but not in others. The term is also used to describe the process of rendering ethanol unfit to drink.

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Denaturation may refer to:

See also

  • Denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirit
  • Denaturalization, the reverse of naturalization, when a state deprives one of its citizens of his or her citizenship

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