Low Voltage Voltammetry Probes Proton Dissociation Equilibria of Amino Acids and Peptides


Platinum-catalyzed electrochemical reduction of dissociable protons at low potentials was used to investigate proton dissociation equilibria of freely diffusing and peptide-incorporated charged amino acids. We first demonstrate with five charged essential amino acids and their analogs that the electrochemically induced deprotonation of each amino acid occurs at distinct formal reduction potential. Moreover, the observed direct reduction for all the charged species, excluding arginine, occurs at low potentials suitable for investigation under aqueous conditions (−0.4 to −0.9 V vs Ag/AgCl). The direct proton reduction was resolved via deconvolution of the observed differential pulse voltammogram (DPV) from background hydronium reduction and water electrolysis. A linear correlation was found between the formal reduction potentials and the pKa values of the dissociable protons hosted by various molecular moieties in the amino acids and their analogs and further verified with tripeptides. DPV of poly(l-lysine) decamer (Lys10) distinctively resolved the pKa values of the amino groups in the side chains and N-terminus, at a resolution not possible by conventional acid–base titration. This work demonstrates selective electrochemical titration of dissociable protons in charged amino acids in the free state and as residues in biomolecules, as well as the utility of DPV to indirectly interrogate local electrostatic environments that are essential to the stability and function of biomolecules.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Sheng-Ping Liang, Eloise Masquelier, Daniel E. Morse, Michael J. Gordon, and Lior Sepunaru
Peer-Reviewed Article
Analytical Chemistry