The hydrogen bond (H bond) is one of the most important interactions that form the foundation of secondary and tertiary protein structure. Beyond holding protein structures together, H bonds are also intimately involved in solvent coordination, ligand binding, and enzyme catalysis. The H bond by definition involves the light atom, H, and it is very difficult to study directly, especially with X-ray crystallographic techniques, due to the poor scattering power of H atoms. Neutron protein crystallography provides a powerful, complementary tool that can give unambiguous information to structural biologists on solvent organization and coordination, the electrostatics of ligand binding, the protonation states of amino acid side chains and catalytic water species. The method is complementary to X-ray crystallography and the dynamic data obtainable with NMR spectroscopy. Also, as it gives explicit H atom positions, it can be very valuable to computational chemistry where exact knowledge of protonation and solvent orientation can make a large difference in modeling. This article gives general information about neutron crystallography and shows specific examples of how the method has contributed to structural biology, structure-based drug design; and the understanding of fundamental questions of reaction mechanisms.
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