December 13, 2020

Protein: General structure and functions

The word protein is derived from Greek word, “proteios” which means primary. As the name shows, the proteins are of paramount importance for biological systems. Proteins are biochemical molecules consisting of polypeptides joined by peptide bonds between the amino and carboxyl groups of amino acid residues.

Proteins are made up of hundreds or thousands of smaller units known as amino acids. Most organisms use 20 naturally-occurring amino acids to build proteins. The linear sequence of the amino acids in a protein is dictated by the sequence of the nucleotides in an organisms’ genetic code. Amino acids can combine to form long linear chains known as polypeptides. Each type of polypeptide chain has a unique amino acid sequence.

The sequence of amino acids determines each protein’s unique 3-dimensional structure and its specific function such as catalysis of biochemical reactions, mechanical support and immune protection, movement, transport of ligand, transmits nerve impulses, and control growth and differentiation.

The proteins function to regulate specific steps in metabolism – one step, one protein. Hence, many proteins are needed.

The polypeptide must fold into a specific three-dimensional structure before it can perform its biological functions. The function of all proteins depends on their ability to specifically interact with other molecules. Such specificity is possible because polypeptides with different amino acid sequences fold into different tertiary structures.

Proteins are not entirely rigid molecules. They undergo conformational changes upon ligand binding. Each kind of protein evolved to interact with a specific molecule or ligand. For example, transport proteins (such as hemoglobin) bind to specific ligands (in this case oxygen) and transport the ligand to a site where it is needed. Hemoglobin, the transporter of oxygen is a tetrameric protein (alpha 2, beta 2), with each monomer having a heme unit. Binding of oxygen to one heme facilitates oxygen binding by other subunits.

Storage proteins such as myoglobin, another oxygen-binding protein, allow the cell to store higher concentrations of the ligand than otherwise would be possible.

Catalytic proteins— the enzymes—convert the ligands into other molecules. They act as biochemical catalysts. The first step in enzymatic catalysis is the binding of the enzyme to the substrate. This, in turn, depends on the structural conformation of the active site of the enzyme, which is precisely oriented for substrate binding

Many proteins have structural or mechanical functions. Structural proteins interact with specific molecules, often endowing the bound molecules with special biological properties. For instance, one class of proteins, the histones, binds to DNA to form compact nucleoprotein structures called nucleosomes, while a second class of proteins combines with RNA to form the ribonucleoprotein complex known as the ribosome.

Structural proteins collagen is the most abundant protein in mammals and is the main fibrous component of skin, bone, tendon, cartilage and teeth.

Proteins are also important in cell signaling, immune responses, cell adhesion, and the cell cycle.
Protein: General structure and functions


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