The composition of the intracellular milieu shows striking similarities among widely different species. Only certain values of intracellular pH, values that generally reflect alphastat regulation, and only narrow ranges of inorganic ion concentrations are found in the cytoplasm of the cells of most animals, plants, and microorganisms. In water-stressed organisms only a few types of low-molecular-weight organic molecules (osmolytes) are accumulated. These highly conserved characteristics of the intracellular fluids reflect the need to maintain critical features of macromolecules within narrow ranges optimal for life. For proteins these features include maintaining adequate rates of catalysis, a high level of regulatory responsiveness, and a precise balance between stability and lability of structure (tertiary conformation, subunit assembly, and multiprotein complexes). The optimal values for these functional and structural features of proteins often lie near the midrange of possible values for these properties, and only under specific conditions of intracellular pH, ionic strength, and osmolyte composition are these optimal midrange values conserved. In dormant cells the departure of solution conditions from values that are optimal for protein function and structure may be instrumental in reducing or shutting down metabolic functions. Seen from a broad evolutionary perspective, the evolution of the intracellular milieu is an important complement to macromolecular evolution. In certain instances appropriate modifications of the internal milieu may reduce the need for adaptive amino acid replacements in proteins.
- Copyright © 1986 the American Physiological Society