The role of the amino acid at position α38 in haemoglobin has been probed using site-directed mutagenesis. When the Thr residue at position α38 (which is totally conserved in all mammals) is changed to a Gln, the equilibrium properties of the protein are significantly altered. Equilibrium and kinetic data show that the R-state properties of the protein are essentially unaffected by the mutation whilst the allosteric equilibrium and T-state properties are changed. Mutation of the naturally occurring Gln38 of the human embryonic haemoglobin ζ-chain (the only known non-Thr containing globin) to a Thr residue shows the converse change in properties produced by the adult mutation, although in this case the situation is complicated by significant chain heterogeneity in the T state. An extension of the two-state model of co-operativity is presented to describe quantitatively the equilibrium ligand binding in the presence of T-state chain heterogeneity. A molecular model is described in which the putative interaction of αGln38 and βTyr145 is identified which make a significant contribution to the previously reported unusual ligand-binding properties of the ζ-chain containing human embryonic haemoglobins.

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