Isoelectric point

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The isoelectric point (pI, pH(I), IEP), is the pH at which a particular molecule carries no net electrical charge. The standard nomenclature to represent the isoelectric point is pH(I),[1] although pI is also commonly seen,[2] and is used in this article for brevity. The net charge on the molecule is affected by pH of its surrounding environment and can become more positively or negatively charged due to the gain or loss, respectively, of protons (H+).

Surfaces naturally charge to form a double layer. In the common case when the surface charge-determining ions are H+/OH, the net surface charge is affected by the pH of the liquid in which the solid is submerged.

The pI value can affect the solubility of a molecule at a given pH. Such molecules have minimum solubility in water or salt solutions at the pH that corresponds to their pI and often precipitate out of solution. Biological amphoteric molecules such as proteins contain both acidic and basic functional groups. Amino acids that make up proteins may be positive, negative, neutral, or polar in nature, and together give a protein its overall charge. At a pH below their pI, proteins carry a net positive charge; above their pI they carry a net negative charge. Proteins can, thus, be separated by net charge in a polyacrylamide gel using either QPNC-PAGE or isoelectric focusing, which uses a pH gradient to separate proteins. Isoelectric focusing is also the first step in 2-D gel polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.

Calculating pI values

For an amino acid with only one amine and one carboxyl group, the pI can be calculated from the mean of the pKas of this molecule.[3]

 \mathrm{pI} = \frac{\mathrm{p}K_\mathrm{a1} + \mathrm{p}K_\mathrm{a2}}{2}

The pH of an electrophoretic gel is determined by the buffer used for that gel. If the pH of the buffer is above the pI of the protein being run, the protein will migrate to the positive pole (negative charge is attracted to a positive pole). If the pH of the buffer is below the pI of the protein being run, the protein will migrate to the negative pole of the gel (positive charge is attracted to the negative pole). If the protein is run with a buffer pH that is equal to the pI, it will not migrate at all. This is also true for individual amino acids.


250px 250px
glycine pK = 2.72, 9.60 adenosine monophosphate pK = 0.9, 3.8, 6.1

In these two examples the isoelectric point is shown by the green vertical line. In glycine the pK values are separated by nearly 7 units so the concentration of the neutral species, glycine (GlyH), is effectively 100% of the analytical glycine concentration. Glycine may exist as a zwitterion at the isoelectric point, but the equilibrium constant for the isomerization reaction in solution


is not known.

The other example, adenosine monophosphate is shown to illustrate the fact that a third species may, in principle, be involved. In fact the concentration of (AMP)H32+ is negligible at the isoelectric point in this case. If the pI is greater than the pH, the molecule will have a positive charge.

Ceramic materials

The isoelectric points (IEP) of metal oxide ceramics are used extensively in material science in various aqueous processing steps (synthesis, modification, etc.). In the absence of chemisorbed or physisorbed species[4] particle surfaces in aqueous suspension are generally assumed to be covered with surface hydroxyl species, M-OH (where M is a metal such as Al, Si, etc.). At pH values above the IEP, the predominate surface species is M-O, while at pH values below the IEP, M-OH2+ species predominate. Some approximate values of common ceramics are listed below (Haruta[5] and Brunelle,[6] except where noted). The exact value can vary widely, depending on material factors such as purity and phase as well as physical parameters such as temperature. In addition, precise measurement of isoelectric points is difficult and requires careful techniques, even with modern methods. Thus, many sources often cite differing values for isoelectric points of these materials.

Examples of isoelectric points

The following list gives the pH25 °C of isoelectric point at 25 °C for selected materials in water:

Note: The list is ordered by increasing pH values.

Mixed oxides may exhibit isoelectric point values that are intermediate to those of the corresponding pure oxides. For example, Jara et al.[13] measured an IEP of 4.5 for a synthetically prepared amorphous aluminosilicate (Al2O3-SiO2). The researchers noted that the electrokinetic behavior of the surface was dominated by surface Si-OH species, thus explaining the relatively low IEP value. Significantly higher IEP values (pH 6 to 8) have been reported for 3Al2O3-2SiO2 by others (see Lewis[10]). Lewis[10] also lists the IEP of barium titanate, BaTiO3 as being between pH 5 and 6, while Vamvakaki et al.[14] reported a value of 3, although these authors note that a wide range of values have been reported, a result of either residual barium carbonate on the surface or TiO2-rich surfaces.

The farther the pH of an Amino Acid solution is from its pl the greater the electric charge on that population of molecules.

Isoelectric point versus point of zero charge

The terms isoelectric point (IEP) and point of zero charge (PZC) are often used interchangeably, although under certain circumstances, it may be productive to make the distinction.

In systems in which H+/OH are the interface potential-determining ions, the point of zero charge is given in terms of pH. The pH at which the surface exhibits a neutral net electrical charge is the point of zero charge at the surface. Electrokinetic phenomena generally measure zeta potential, and a zero zeta potential is interpreted as the point of zero net charge at the shear plane. This is termed the isoelectric point.[15] Thus, the isoelectric point is the value of pH at which the colloidal particle remains stationary in an electrical field. The isoelectric point is expected to be somewhat different than the point of zero charge at the particle surface, but this difference is often ignored in practice for so-called pristine surfaces, i.e., surfaces with no specifically adsorbed positive or negative charges.[4] In this context, specific adsorption is understood as adsorption occurring in a Stern layer or chemisorption. Thus, point of zero charge at the surface is taken as equal to isoelectric point in the absence of specific adsorption on that surface.

According to Jolivet,[8] in the absence of positive or negative charges, the surface is best described by the point of zero charge. If positive and negative charges are both present in equal amounts, then this is the isoelectric point. Thus, the PZC refers to the absence of any type of surface charge, while the IEP refers to a state of neutral net surface charge. The difference between the two, therefore, is the quantity of charged sites at the point of net zero charge. Jolivet uses the intrinsic surface equilibrium constants, pK and pK+ to define the two conditions in terms of the relative number of charged sites:

 \mathrm{p}K^- - \mathrm{p}K^+ = \Delta \mathrm{p}K = \log {\frac{\left[\mathrm{MOH}\right]^2}{\left[\mathrm{MOH}{_2^+}\right]\left[\mathrm{MO}^-\right]}}

For large ΔpK (>4 according to Jolivet), the predominant species is MOH while there are relatively few charged species - so the PZC is relevant. For small values of ΔpK, there are many charged species in approximately equal numbers, so one speaks of the IEP.

See also


  1. Acceptable variants on pH(I) would include pHI, pHIEP, etc; the main point is that one cannot take the 'power' of I, rather one measures the pH subject to a nominated condition.
  2. IUPAC. Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book"). Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford (1997). XML on-line corrected version: (2006-) created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN 0-9678550-9-8. doi:10.1351/goldbook. Last update: 2014-02-24; version: 2.3.3. DOI of this term: doi:10.1351/goldbook.I03275.
  3. For derivation of this expression see acid dissociation constant
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hanaor, D.A.H.; Michelazzi, M.; Leonelli, C.; Sorrell, C.C. (2012). "The effects of carboxylic acids on the aqueous dispersion and electrophoretic deposition of ZrO2". Journal of the European Ceramic Society. 32 (1): 235–244. doi:10.1016/j.jeurceramsoc.2011.08.015. 
  5. Haruta M (2004). 'Nanoparticulate Gold Catalysts for Low-Temperature CO Oxidation', Journal of New Materials for Electrochemical Systems, vol. 7, pp 163–172.
  6. Brunelle JP (1978). 'Preparation of Catalysts by Metallic Complex Adsorption on Mineral Oxides'. Pure and Applied Chemistry vol. 50, pp. 1211-1229.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 7.16 Marek Kosmulski, "Chemical Properties of Material Surfaces", Marcel Dekker, 2001.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Jolivet J.P., Metal Oxide Chemistry and Synthesis. From Solution to Solid State, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 2000, ISBN 0-471-97056-5 (English translation of the original French text, De la Solution à l'Oxyde, InterEditions et CNRS Editions, Paris, 1994).
  9. U.S. Patent 5,165,996
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Lewis, JA (2000). 'Colloidal Processing of Ceramics', Journal of the American Ceramic Society vol. 83, no. 10, pp.2341–2359.
  11. Daido T and Akaike T (1993). 'Electrochemistry of cytochrome c: influence of coulombic attraction with indium tin oxide electrode', Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry vol. 344, no. 1-2, pp. 91–106.
  12. Kosmulski M and Saneluta C (2004). 'Point of zero charge/isoelectric point of exotic oxides: Tl2O3', Journal of Colloid and Interface Science vol. 280, no. 2, pp. 544–545.
  13. Jara, A.A., S. Goldberg and M.L. Mora (2005). 'Studies of the surface charge of amorphous aluminosilicates using surface complexation models', Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, vol. 292, no. 1, pp. 160–170.
  14. Vamvakaki, M., N.C. Billingham, S.P. Armes, J.F. Watts and S.J. Greaves (2001). 'Controlled structure copolymers for the dispersion of high-performance ceramics in aqueous media', Journal of Materials Chemistry, vol. 11, pp. 2437-2444.
  15. A.W. Adamson, A.P. Gast, "Physical Chemistry of Surfaces", John Wiley and Sons, 1997.

Further reading

  • Nelson DL, Cox MM (2004). Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry. W. H. Freeman; 4th edition (Hardcover). ISBN 0-7167-4339-6
  • Kosmulski M. (2009). Surface Charging and Points of Zero Charge. CRC Press; 1st edition (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-4200-5188-9

External links