Glycine’s pH-Dependent Polymorphism: A Perspective from Self-Association in Solution

As a simple amino acid, glycine (Gly)’s polymorphism is pH-dependent. The α form is typically obtained from aqueous solution between pH of 4 and 9, while the γ is produced at either lower or higher pH. Formation of cyclic, hydrogen-bonded dimer in water is debated as a possible cause for the formation of the α form. To further understand the pH-dependent polymorphism, our current study examined the self-association of Gly in aqueous solutions under a wide range of pH, utilizing NMR, FTIR, and electronic calculation. The results indicate that glycine molecules form open, not cyclic, hydrogen-bonded dimers in water. It is revealed that the dimerization becomes significant between pH of 4 and 8 but remains trivial at the two pH extremes. The apparent connection between the pH-dependent polymorphism and self-association in solution implies that formation of the α form is driven by the dimerization, and moreover, charged molecular species at the extreme pH facilitate stabilization of γ nuclei.