Publication: The Journal of general physiology
Publication Date: 1920
Study Author(s): Northrop, J H;
Institution: Laboratories of The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.
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The experiments described above show that the rate of Digestion and the conductivity of protein solutions are very closely parallel. If the isoelectric point of a protein is at a lower hydrogen ion concentration than that of another, the conductivity and also the rate of digestion of the first protein extends further to the alkaline side. The optimum hydrogen ion concentration for the rate of digestion and the degree of ionization (conductivity) of Gelatin solutions is the same, and the curves for the ionization and rate of digestion as plotted against the pH are nearly parallel throughout. The addition of a salt with the same anion as the acid to a solution of protein already containing the optimum amount of the acid has the same depressing effect on the digestion as has the addition of the equivalent amount of acid. These facts are in quantitative agreement with the hypothesis that the determining factor in the digestion of proteins by pepsin is the amount of ionized protein present in the solution. It was shown in a previous paper that this would also account for the peculiar relation between the rate of digestion and the concentration of protein. The amount of ionized protein in the solution depends on the amount of Salt formed between the protein (a weak base) and the acid. This quantity, in turn, according to the hydrolysis theory of the salts of weak bases and strong acids, is a function of the hydrogen ion concentration, up to the point at which all the protein is combined with the acid as a salt. This point is the optimum hydrogen ion concentration for digestion, since the solution now contains the maximum concentration of protein ions. The hydrogen ion concentration in this range therefore is merely a convenient indicator of the amount of ionized protein present in the solution and takes no active part in the hydrolysis. After sufficient acid has been added to combine with all the protein, i.e. at pH of about 2.0, the further addition of acid serves to depress the ionization of the protein salt by increasing the concentration of the common anion. The hydrogen ion concentration is, therefore, no longer an indicator of the amount of ionized protein present, since this quantity is now determined by the anion concentration. Hence on the acid side of the optimum the addition of the same concentration of anion should have the same influence on the rate of digestion irrespective of whether it is combined with hydrogen or some other ion (provided, of course, that there is no other secondary effect of the other ion). The proposed mechanism is very similar to that suggested by Stieglitz and his coworkers for the hydrolysis of the imido esters. Pekelharing and Ringer have shown that pure pepsin in acid solution is always negatively charged; i.e., it is an anion. The experiments described above show further that it behaves just as would be expected of any anion in the presence of a salt containing the protein ion as the cation and as has been shown by Loeb to be the case with inorganic anions. Nothing has been said in regard to the quantitative agreement between the increasing amounts of ionized protein found in the solution (as shown by the conductivity values) and the amount predicted by the hydrolysis theory of the formation of salts of weak bases and strong acids. There is little doubt that the values are in qualitative agreement with such a theory. In order to make a quantitative comparison, however, it would be necessary to know the ionization constant of the protein and of the protein salt and also the number of hydroxyl (or amino) groups in the protein molecule as well as the molecular weight of the protein. Since these values are not known with any degree of certainty there appears to be no value at present in attempting to apply the hydrolysis equations to the data obtained. It it clear that the hypothesis as outlined above for the hydrolysis of proteins by pepsin cannot be extended directly to Enzymes in general, since in many cases the substrate is not known to exist in an ionized condition at all. It is possible, however, that ionization is really present or that the equilibrium instead of being ionic is between two tautomeric forms of the substrate, only one of which is attacked by the enzyme. Furthermore, it is clear that even in the case of proteins there are difficulties in the way since the pepsin obtained from young animals, or a similar enzyme preparation from yeast or other microorganisms, is said to have a different optimum hydrogen ion concentration than that found for the pepsin used in these experiments. The activity of these enzyme preparations therefore would not be found to depend on the ionization of the protein. It is possible of course that the enzyme preparations mentioned may contain several proteolytic enzymes and that the action observed is a combination of the action of several Enzymes. Dernby has shown that this is a very probable explanation of the action of the autolytic enzymes. The optimum hydrogen ion concentration for the activity of the pepsin used in these experiments agrees very closely with that found by Ringer for pepsin prepared by him directly from gastric juice and very carefully purified. Ringer's pepsin probably represents as pure an enzyme preparation as it is possible to prepare. There is every reason to suppose therefore that the enzyme used in this work was not a mixture of several enzymes.
PMID: 19871859

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