It's in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia Narrative  
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Early Hemoglobin Investigations
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In 1935 Pauling published his first of many scientific papers on the structure of hemoglobin. He approached his research on hemoglobin by focusing on a portion of the macromolecule. Thus, he first studied the structural configuration of the heme, which contains the iron. He drew upon his profound knowledge of inorganic chemistry and his growing understanding of organic substances. Using his knowledge of physics, particularly quantum mechanics, Pauling devised a mathematical explanation to a problem that stumped researchers: How do the four heme units in the molecule communicate in order to achieve the successive binding and unbinding of oxygen? It was known that once one oxygen molecule bonded to hemoglobin, that the other three oxygen molecules bind more readily. The same is true for the unbinding of oxygen molecules: after the first oxygen molecule dissociates from the hemoglobin, the rest disconnect more easily. Pauling proposed a structure for the four iron atoms in hemoglobin; he stated that the hemes were not only attached to the globin, but also that the four hemes are arranged in a square and bound to two other hemes. Thus, Pauling structurally connected the hemes to one another, which explained how they communicate.

Within one year, Pauling, in collaboration with research fellow Charles D. Coryell, wrote two articles on the magnetic properties and structure of hemoglobin and its derivatives. One paper dealt with the question of how oxygen and carbon monoxide bind to hemoglobin. In order to answer this question, Pauling devised a new approach for examining hemoglobin – through its magnetic properties. Pauling and Coryell found that oxyhemoglobin and carbonmonoxyhemoglobin have no magnetic moment and therefore all electrons are paired. In comparison, hemoglobin exhibits paramagnetism, meaning that hemoglobin has unpaired electrons. Specifically, Pauling and Coryell stated that each heme has four unpaired electrons. Thus, they determined that the iron in hemoglobin forms ionic (not covalent) bonds with nitrogen and the globin, while oxyhemoglobin and carbonmonoxyhemoglobin form covalent bonds at the same locations. They remarked: "It is interesting and surprising that the hemoglobin molecule undergoes such an extreme structural change on the addition of oxygen or carbon monoxide." According to Pauling and Coryell, the formation of covalent bonds (rather than ionic bonds) most likely explained why hemoglobin bonded more readily with oxygen and carbon monoxide than with other substances. Pauling reflected in 1970 upon the importance of his work with Coryell: "These studies of the magnetic properties of hemoglobin and its compounds led to a great increase in understanding of the structure of the hemoglobin molecule in the neighborhood of the heme groups."

Although Pauling valued hemoglobin's potential, he neither asked others to research it, nor did he make it a primary research substance in Caltech's chemistry laboratory after he became the department's Chair in 1937. Of the fifteen men who headed up areas of research in Pauling's lab, only Pauling worked on hemoglobin. And of his seven assistants, only two aided him with his hemoglobin projects during the late 1930s. However, this did not stop Pauling from importing scientists familiar with hemoglobin to help him learn more about it.

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Video Clip  Video: Magnetic Testing of Hemoglobin with Charles Coryell. 1976. (1:52) Transcript and More Information

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See Also: "The magnetic properties and structure of the hemochromogens and related substances." March 1936. 
See Also: "The magnetic properties and structure of hemoglobin, oxyhemoglobin and carbonmonoxyhemoglobin." April 1936. 
See Also: Letter from Charles Coryell to Linus Pauling. November 25, 1937. 

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Charles Coryell and Linus Pauling. 1935.


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Letter from Charles Coryell to Linus Pauling. November 16, 1937.

"The meetings at Stanford...were very interesting. There were lots of times when people wanted to know what Pauling would say about different things, so [John] Edsall and I had to speak for you, taking of course, a fair amount of the credit."

Charles Coryell
July 4, 1941
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