Determination of the Transition-State Entropy for Aggregation Suggests How the Growth of Sickle Cell Hemoglobin Polymers can be Slowed

Peter G. Vekilov, Oleg Galkin, Bernard Pettitt, Nihar Choudhury, Ronald L. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Sickle cell anemia is associated with the mutant hemoglobin HbS, which forms polymers in red blood cells of patients. The growth rate of the polymers is several micrometers per second, ensuring that a polymer fiber reaches the walls of an erythrocyte (which has a 7-μm diameter) within a few seconds after its nucleation. To understand the factors that determine this unusually fast rate, we analyze data on the growth rate of the polymer fibers. We show that the fiber growth follows a first-order Kramers-type kinetics model. The entropy of the transition state for incorporation into a fiber is 95 J mol- 1 K- 1, very close to the known entropy of polymerization. This agrees with a recent theoretical estimate for the hydrophobic interaction and suggests that the gain of entropy in the transition state is due to the release of the last layer of water molecules structured around contact sites on the surface of the HbS molecules. As a result of this entropy gain, the free-energy barrier for incorporation of HbS molecules into a fiber is negligible and fiber growth is unprecedentedly fast. This finding suggests that fiber growth can be slowed by components of the red cell cytosol, native or intentionally introduced, which restructure the hydration layer around the HbS molecules and thus lower the transition state entropy for incorporation of an incoming molecule into the growing fiber.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)882-888
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 28 2008
Externally publishedYes



  • growth rate
  • hemoglobin S polymerization
  • hydration layer
  • sickle cell anemia
  • transition-state entropy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology

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