Protein interactions studied by SAXS: effect of ionic strength and protein concentration for BSA in aqueous solutions

Fajun Zhang, Maximilian W.A. Skoda, Robert M.J. Jacobs, Richard A. Martin, Christopher M. Martin, Frank Schreiber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have studied a series of samples of bovine serum albumin (BSA) solutions with protein concentration, c, ranging from 2 to 500 mg/mL and ionic strength, I, from 0 to 2 M by small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). The scattering intensity distribution was compared to simulations using an oblate ellipsoid form factor with radii of 17 x 42 x 42 A, combined with either a screened Coulomb, repulsive structure factor, S-SC(q), or an attractive square-well structure factor, S-SW(q). At pH = 7, BSA is negatively charged. At low ionic strength, I <0.3 M, the total interaction exhibits a decrease of the repulsive interaction when compared to the salt-free solution, as the net surface charge is screened, and the data can be fitted by assuming an ellipsoid form factor and screened Coulomb interaction. At moderate ionic strength (0.3-0.5 M), the interaction is rather weak, and a hard-sphere structure factor has been used to simulate the data with a higher volume fraction. Upon further increase of the ionic strength (I >= 1.0 M), the overall interaction potential was dominated by an additional attractive potential, and the data could be successfully fitted by an ellipsoid form factor and a square-well potential model. The fit parameters, well depth and well width, indicate that the attractive potential caused by a high salt concentration is weak and long-ranged. Although the long-range, attractive potential dominated the protein interaction, no gelation or precipitation was observed in any of the samples. This is explained by the increase of a short-range, repulsive interaction between protein molecules by forming a hydration layer with increasing salt concentration. The competition between long-range, attractive and short-range, repulsive interactions accounted for the stability of concentrated BSA solution at high ionic strength.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-259
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry: Part B
Issue number1
Early online date10 Dec 2006
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2007


  • scattering
  • x-ray scattering
  • blood plasma
  • serum albumin


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