Salt hydrates for in situ water activity control have acid-base effects on enzymes in nonaqueous media

N. Fontes, N. Harper, P.J. Halling, S. Barreiros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Salt hydrates very frequently are utilized as in situ water activity buffers in reaction mixtures of enzymes in nonaqueous media. In addition to buffering water activity, there is evidence that salt hydrates also often affect initial rates in other ways. This has been generally overlooked or thought to be related to water transfer effects. Here we show that salt hydrates can have important acid-base effects on enzymes in nonaqueous media. We performed transesterification reactions in n-hexane and in supercritical ethane catalyzed by cross-linked crystals of subtilisin, differing in the method used to set a(W), and confirmed that the presence of salt hydrate pairs significantly affected the catalytic performance of the enzyme. However, in the presence of a solid-state acid-base buffer, salt hydrates had no effect on enzymatic activity. Direct evidence for the acid-base effects of salt hydrates was obtained by testing their effect on the protonation state of an organo-soluble H+/Na+ indicator. The four salt hydrate pairs tested affected the indicator to very different extents. By promoting the exchange of H+ for Na+, salt hydrates will tend to affect the ionization state of acidic residues in the protein and, hence, enzymatic activity. In fact, salt hydrates were able to affect the pH memory of subtilisin lyophilized from different aqueous pHs, bringing about up to 20-fold enhancements and up to 5-fold decreases in catalytic activity. The possibility of such acid-base effects need to be considered in all experiments using salt hydrates to control water activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)802-808
Number of pages6
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2003


  • enzymes
  • supercritical fluids
  • organic solvents
  • water activity
  • enzyme ionization
  • salt hydrates Organic-solvents
  • catalysis
  • biocatalysis
  • buffers


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