Arginine is one of the commonly used additives to enhance refolding yield of proteins, to suppress aggregation of proteins, and to increase solubility of proteins, and yet the molecular interactions that contribute to the role of arginine are unclear. Here, we present experiments, using bovine serum albumin (BSA), lysozyme (LYZ), and β-lactoglobulin (BLG) as model proteins, to show that arginine can enhance heat-induced aggregation of concentrated protein solutions, contrary to the conventional belief that arginine is a universal suppressor of aggregation. Results show that the enhancement in aggregation is caused only for BSA and BLG, but not for LYZ, indicating that arginine's preferential interactions with certain residues over others could determine the effect of the additive on aggregation. We use this previously unrecognized behavior of arginine, in combination with density functional theory calculations, to identify the molecular-level interactions of arginine with various residues that determine arginine's role as an enhancer or suppressor of aggregation of proteins. The experimental and computational results suggest that the guanidinium group of arginine promotes aggregation through the hydrogen-bond-based bridging interactions with the acidic residues of a protein, whereas the binding of the guanidinium group to aromatic residues (aggregation-prone) contributes to the stability and solubilization of the proteins. The approach, we describe here, can be used to select suitable additives to stabilize a protein solution at high concentrations based on an analysis of the amino acid content of the protein.
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