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Zwitterions

Zwitterions


Zwitterions (the word is derived from the German for "hybrid ion") are ions that are electrically neutral overall but contain nonadjacent regions of positive and negative charges; they are sometimes referred to as "dipolar ions." The best-known examples of zwitterions are the free amino acids found in cells.

An examination of the general structure of an amino acid reveals that there are two parts, or groups, of the molecule that can function as an acid/base pair, the COOH and NH2 groups. At pH values near neutrality, a protein transfer reaction takes place that results in the COOH becoming COO and the NH2 becoming NH3+. A large favorable (stabilizing) electrostatic interaction now develops between these two parts of the molecule. This interaction is favorable enough to shift the equilibrium constant for the proton transfer reaction toward the formation of the charged species, by a factor of between 10 and 50fold. In addition to the favorable electrostatic interaction between the charged regions, these same charged regions have very favorable electrostatic interactions with surrounding water molecules. Water molecules solvate these regions of the amino acid in a manner very similar to their solvation of cations and anions .

The physical properties of crystalline amino acids are consistent with their existence as zwitterions. Their melting points are relatively high, often above 200°C (392°F), and they are far more soluble in water than in nonpolar solvents such as ether or chloroform. Measured dipole moments for crystalline amino acids are fairly large, reflecting the significant degree of charge separation.

see also Amino Acid.

Matthew A. Fisher

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zwitterion

zwitterion (ampholyte ion) An ion that has a positive and negative charge on the same group of atoms. Zwitterions can be formed from compounds that contain both acid groups and basic groups in their molecules. For example, the amino acid glycine has the formula H2N.CH2.COOH. However, under neutral conditions, it exists in the different form of the zwitterion +H3N.CH2.COO, which can be regarded as having been produced by an internal neutralization reaction (transfer of a proton from the carboxyl group to the amino group). Glycine therefore has some properties characteristic of ionic compounds, e.g. a high melting point and solubility in water. In acid solutions, the positive ion +H3NCH2COOH is formed. In basic solutions, the negative ion H2NCH2COO predominates. The name comes from the German zwei, two.

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zwitterion

zwitterion A dipolar ion (i.e. one with both negative and positive charges and therefore no net charge). Amino acids in solution at their isoelectric point (i.e. the pH at which they are electrically neutral) usually exist in this form, when the amino group is protonated (−NH13) and the carbonyl (CO) group dissociated (−COO).

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zwitterion

zwitterion A dipolar ion (i.e. one with both negative and positive charges and therefore no net charge). Amino acids in solution at neutral pH usually exist in this form, when the amino group is protonated (–NH+3) and the carbonyl group dissociated (–COO).

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