ATP as a biological hydrotrope

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Science  19 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6339, pp. 753-756
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6846

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ATP boosts protein solubility

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) has well-characterized roles in providing energy for biochemical reactions within cells. Patel et al. find that ATP may also enhance protein solubility, which could help explain why such high concentrations of ATP are maintained in cells (see the Perspective by Rice and Rosen). Protein concentrations in cells can exceed 100 mg/ml. The authors found that ATP at concentrations found in cells could act as a hydrotrope to help solubilize hydrophobic proteins. The results raise the possibility that ATP concentrations could influence processes such as protein aggregation that occur in disease or liquid-liquid phase separations that occur within cells.

Science, this issue p. 753; see also p. 701


Hydrotropes are small molecules that solubilize hydrophobic molecules in aqueous solutions. Typically, hydrotropes are amphiphilic molecules and differ from classical surfactants in that they have low cooperativity of aggregation and work at molar concentrations. Here, we show that adenosine triphosphate (ATP) has properties of a biological hydrotrope. It can both prevent the formation of and dissolve previously formed protein aggregates. This chemical property is manifested at physiological concentrations between 5 and 10 millimolar. Therefore, in addition to being an energy source for biological reactions, for which micromolar concentrations are sufficient, we propose that millimolar concentrations of ATP may act to keep proteins soluble. This may in part explain why ATP is maintained in such high concentrations in cells.

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