Tertiary Structure of Protein


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This illustration shows a polypeptide backbone folded into a three-dimensional structure. Chemical interactions between amino acid side chains maintain its shape. These include an ionic bond between an amino group and a carboxyl group, hydrophobic interactions between two hydrophobic side chains, a hydrogen bond between a hydroxyl group and a carbonyl group, and a disulfide linkage.
A variety of chemical interactions determine the proteins’ tertiary structure. These include hydrophobic interactions, ionic bonding, hydrogen bonding, and disulfide linkages.

Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

The polypeptide’s unique three-dimensional structure is its tertiary structure. This structure is in part due to chemical interactions at work on the polypeptide chain. Primarily, the interactions among R groups create the protein’s complex three-dimensional tertiary structure. The nature of the R groups in the amino acids involved can counteract forming the hydrogen bonds we described for standard secondary structures. For example, R groups with like charges repel each other and those with unlike charges are attracted to each other (ionic bonds). When protein folding takes place, the non-polar amino acids’ hydrophobic R groups lie in the protein’s interior; whereas, the hydrophilic R groups lie on the outside. Scientists also call the former interaction types hydrophobic interactions. Interaction between cysteine side chains forms disulfide linkages in the presence of oxygen, the only covalent bond that forms during protein folding.

All of these interactions, weak and strong, determine the protein’s final three-dimensional shape. When a protein loses its three-dimensional shape, it may no longer be functional.

– A number of tertiary structures may fold into what structure?

Molecular chaperones are proteins that assist the conformational folding or unfolding and the assembly or disassembly of other macromolecular structures. Chaperones are present when the macromolecules perform their normal biological functions and have correctly completed the processes of folding and/or assembly. The chaperones are concerned primarily with protein folding. The first protein to be called a chaperone assists the assembly of nucleosomes from folded histones and DNA and such assembly chaperones, especially in the nucleus, are concerned with the assembly of folded subunits into oligomeric structures.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e