Peptides and Proteins

We now turn to polymers of amino acids, the peptides and proteins. Biologically occurring polypeptides range in size from small to very large, consisting of two or three to thousands of linked amino acid residues. Our focus is on the fundamental chemical properties of these polymers.

Peptides Are Chains of Amino Acids

Two amino acid molecules can be covalently joined through a substituted amide linkage, termed a peptide bond, to yield a dipeptide. Such a linkage is formed by removal of the elements of water (dehydration) from the a-carboxyl group of one amino acid and the a-amino group of another (Fig. 3-13). Peptide bond formation is an example of a condensation reaction, a common class of reactions in living cells. Under standard biochemical conditions, the equilibrium for the reaction shown in Figure 3-13 favors the amino acids over the dipeptide. To make the reaction thermodynamically more favorable, the carboxyl group must be chemically modified or activated so that the hydroxyl group can be more readily eliminated. A chemical approach to this problem is outlined later in this chapter. The biological approach to peptide bond formation is a major topic of Chapter 27.

Three amino acids can be joined by two peptide bonds to form a tripeptide; similarly, amino acids can be linked to form tetrapeptides, pentapeptides, and so forth. When a few amino acids are joined in this fashion, the structure is called an oligopeptide. When many amino acids are joined, the product is called a polypep-tide. Proteins may have thousands of amino acid residues. Although the terms "protein" and "polypeptide" are sometimes used interchangeably, molecules referred to as polypeptides generally have molecular weights below 10,000, and those called proteins have higher molecular weights.

Figure 3-14 shows the structure of a pentapeptide. As already noted, an amino acid unit in a peptide is often called a residue (the part left over after losing a hydrogen atom from its amino group and the hydroxyl moiety from its carboxyl group). In a peptide, the amino acid residue at the end with a free a-amino group is the amino-terminal (or ^-terminal) residue; the residue

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