As amino acids have both a primary amine group and a primary carboxyl group, these chemicals can undergo most of the reactions associated with these functional groups. These include nucleophilic addition, amide bond formation and imine formation for the amine group and esterification, amide bond formation and decarboxylation for the carboxylic acid group. The multiple side chains of amino acids can also undergo chemical reactions. The types of these reactions are determined by the groups on these side chains and are discussed in the articles dealing with each specific type of amino acid.
An amino acid, in its (1) normal (unionized) and (2) zwitterionic forms.
As amino acids have both the active groups of an amine and a carboxylic acid they can be considered both acid and base (though their natural pH is usually influenced by the R group). At a certain pH known as the isoelectric point, the amine group gains a positive charge (is protonated) and the acid group a negative charge (is deprotonated). The exact value is specific to each different amino acid. This ion is known as a zwitterion, which comes from the German word Zwitter meaning "hybrid". A zwitterion can be extracted from the solution as a white crystalline structure with a very high melting point, due to its dipolar nature. Near-neutral physiological pH allows most free amino acids to exist as zwitterions.
Hydrophilic and hydrophobic amino acids
Depending on the polarity of the side chain, amino acids vary in their hydrophilic or hydrophobic character. These properties are important in protein structure and protein-protein interactions. The importance of the physical properties of the side chains comes from the influence this has on the amino acid residues' interactions with other structures, both within a single protein and between proteins. The distribution of hydrophilic and hydrophobic amino acids determines the tertiary structure of the protein, and their physical location on the outside structure of the proteins influences their quaternary structure. For example, soluble proteins have surfaces rich with polar amino acids like serine and threonine, while integral membrane proteins tend to have outer ring of hydrophobic amino acids that anchors them into the lipid bilayer, and proteins anchored to the membrane have a hydrophobic end that locks into the membrane. Similarly, proteins that have to bind to positively-charged molecules have surfaces rich with negatively charged amino acids like glutamate and aspartate, while proteins binding to negatively-charged molecules have surfaces rich with positively charged chains like lysine and arginine. Recently a new scale of hydrophobicity based on the free energy of hydrophobic association has been proposed.
Hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions of the proteins do not have to rely only on the sidechains of amino acids themselves. By various posttranslational modifications other chains can be attached to the proteins, forming hydrophobic lipoproteins or hydrophilic glycoproteins.
Peptide bond formation
The condensation of two amino acids to form a peptide bond.
As both the amine and carboxylic acid groups of amino acids can react to form amide bonds, one amino acid molecule can react with another and become joined through an amide linkage. This polymerization of amino acids is what creates proteins. This condensation reaction yields the newly formed peptide bond and a molecule of water. In cells, this reaction does not occur directly, instead the amino acid is activated by attachment to a transfer RNA molecule through an ester bond. This aminoacyl-tRNA is produced in an ATP-dependent reaction carried out by an aminoacyl tRNA synthetase. This aminoacyl-tRNA is then a substrate for the ribosome, which catalyzes the attack of the amino group of the elongating protein chain on the ester bond. As a result of this mechanism, all proteins are synthesized starting at their N-terminus and moving towards their C-terminus.
In chemistry, peptides are synthesized by a variety of reactions. One of the most used in solid-phase peptide synthesis, which uses the aromatic oxime derivatives of amino acids as activated units. These are added in sequence onto the growing peptide chain, which is attached to a solid resin support.
Alpha-amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. A protein forms via the condensation of amino acids to form a chain of amino acid "residues" linked by peptide bonds. Proteins are defined by their unique sequence of amino acid residues; this sequence is the primary structure of the protein. Just as the letters of the alphabet can be combined to form an almost endless variety of words, amino acids can be linked in varying sequences to form a huge variety of proteins.
About twenty standard amino acids are used by cells in protein biosynthesis, and these are specified by the general genetic code. These twenty amino acids are biosynthesized from other molecules, but organisms differ in which ones they can synthesize and which ones must be provided in their diet. The ones that cannot be synthesized by an organism are called essential amino acids.