Primary Structure of Protein


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The amino acid sequences for the A chain and B chain of bovine insulin are shown. The A chain is 21 amino acids in length, and the B chain is 30 amino acids in length. One disulfide, or S S bond, connects two cysteine residues in the A chain. Two other disulfide linkages connect the A chain to the B chain.
Bovine serum insulin is a protein hormone comprised of two peptide chains, A (21 amino acids long) and B (30 amino acids long). In each chain, three-letter abbreviations that represent the amino acids’ names in the order they are present indicate primary structure. The amino acid cysteine (cys) has a sulfhydryl (SH) group as a side chain. Two sulfhydryl groups can react in the presence of oxygen to form a disulfide (S-S) bond. Two disulfide bonds connect the A and B chains together, and a third helps the A chain fold into the correct shape. Note that all disulfide bonds are the same length, but we have drawn them different sizes for clarity.

Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

Primary Structure of Protein (OpenStax Biology 2e)

Amino acids’ unique sequence in a polypeptide chain is its primary structure. For example, the pancreatic hormone insulin has two polypeptide chains, A and B, and they are linked together by disulfide bonds. The N terminal amino acid of the A chain is glycine; whereas, the C terminal amino acid is asparagine. The amino acid sequences in the A and B chains are unique to insulin.

The gene encoding the protein ultimately determines the unique sequence for every protein. A change in nucleotide sequence of the gene’s coding region may lead to adding a different amino acid to the growing polypeptide chain, causing a change in protein structure and function. In sickle cell anemia, the hemoglobin β chain has a single amino acid substitution, causing a change in protein structure and function. Specifically, valine in the β chain substitutes the amino acid glutamic. What is most remarkable to consider is that a hemoglobin molecule is comprised of two alpha and two beta chains that each consist of about 150 amino acids. The molecule, therefore, has about 600 amino acids. The structural difference between a normal hemoglobin molecule and a sickle cell molecule—which dramatically decreases life expectancy—is a single amino acid of the 600. What is even more remarkable is that three nucleotides each encode those 600 amino acids, and a single base change (point mutation), 1 in 1800 bases causes the mutation.

– What type of amino acid sequence does protein primary structure have?

A portion of the hemoglobin amino acid sequence is shown. The normal hemoglobin beta chain has a glutamate at position six. The sickle cell beta chain has a valine at this position.
The beta chain of hemoglobin is 147 residues in length, yet a single amino acid substitution leads to sickle cell anemia. In normal hemoglobin, the amino acid at position seven is glutamate. In sickle cell hemoglobin, a valine replaces glutamate.

Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

Because of this change of one amino acid in the chain, hemoglobin molecules form long fibers that distort the biconcave, or disc-shaped, red blood cells and causes them to assume a crescent or “sickle” shape, which clogs blood vessels. This can lead to myriad serious health problems such as breathlessness, dizziness, headaches, and abdominal pain for those affected by this disease.

This electron micrograph shows red blood cells from a patient with sickle cell anemia. Most of the cells have a normal, disk shape, but about one in five has a sickle shape. A normal blood cell is eight microns across.
In this blood smear, visualized at 535x magnification using bright field microscopy, sickle cells are crescent shaped, while normal cells are disc-shaped. (credit: modification of work by Ed Uthman; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)
– What forms between thiol groups in two cysteine residues that are important component of the secondary and tertiary structure of proteins?

Peptides can be synthesised chemically via a range of laboratory methods. Chemical methods typically synthesise peptides in the opposite order (starting at the C-terminus) to biological protein synthesis (starting at the N-terminus).


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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