Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Jenny J. Yang - Chair

Second Advisor

Shahab Shamsi

Third Advisor

Giovanni Gadda


The structural characteristics associated with the binding of beneficial metals (i.e. - Mg2+, Zn2+ and Ca2+) to natural proteins has typically received more attention than competitive binding by toxic metals (e.g. – Pb2+, Hg2+, Cd2+, La3+, etc.). In this thesis, a statistical analysis of Pb2+-binding in crystallized protein structures indicates that Pb2+ does not bind preferentially with nitrogen, as generally assumed, but binds predominantly with oxygen, and to a lesser degree, sulfur. A comparison of Ca2+ and Pb2+ indicates that Pb2+ binds with a wider range of coordination numbers, with less formal change, and with less defined structure than Ca2+. The Pb2+ ion also appears to displace Ca2+ with little conformational stress in calcium binding proteins (CaBP’s). Experimental data from the binding of metals with engineered fluorescent proteins indicate that both Pb2+ and Gd3+ will occupy grafted calcium-binding sites with greater affinity than Ca2+, and strong evidence is presented to support the hypothesis that Pb2+ and Gd3+ will bind non-specifically on the protein surface. These results suggest that toxicity is associated with two binding mechanisms: displacement of the metal cofactor which disrupts protein function, and non-specific binding which maintains higher solubility of the metal.