There is a long, ongoing debate on how small molecules (osmolytes) affect the stability of proteins. The present study found that change in collective rotational dynamics of water in osmolyte solutions likely has a dominant effect on protein denaturation. According to THz spectroscopy analysis, osmolytes that stabilize proteins are accompanied by bound hydration water with slow dynamics, while the collective rotational dynamics of water is accelerated in the case of denaturant osmolytes. Among 15 osmolytes studied here, there is a good correlation between the change in mobility in terms of water rotational dynamics and the denaturation temperature of ribonuclease A. The changes in water dynamics due to osmolytes can be regarded as a pseudo-temperature-change, which agrees well with the change in protein denaturation temperature. These results indicate that the molecular dynamics of water around the protein is a key factor for protein denaturation.
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