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Protein Sci. May 1996; 5(5): 932–946.
PMCID: PMC2143406

Pi-turns in proteins and peptides: Classification, conformation, occurrence, hydration and sequence.


The i + 5-->i hydrogen bonded turn conformation (pi-turn) with the fifth residue adopting alpha L conformation is frequently found at the C-terminus of helices in proteins and hence is speculated to be a "helix termination signal." An analysis of the occurrence of i + 5-->i hydrogen bonded turn conformation at any general position in proteins (not specifically at the helix C-terminus), using coordinates of 228 protein crystal structures determined by X-ray crystallography to better than 2.5 A resolution is reported in this paper. Of 486 detected pi-turn conformations, 367 have the (i + 4)th residue in alpha L conformation, generally occurring at the C-terminus of alpha-helices, consistent with previous observations. However, a significant number (111) of pi-turn conformations occur with (i + 4)th residue in alpha R conformation also, generally occurring in alpha-helices as distortions either at the terminii or at the middle, a novel finding. These two sets of pi-turn conformations are referred to by the names pi alpha L and pi alpha R-turns, respectively, depending upon whether the (i + 4)th residue adopts alpha L or alpha R conformations. Four pi-turns, named pi alpha L'-turns, were noticed to be mirror images of pi alpha L-turns, and four more pi-turns, which have the (i + 4)th residue in beta conformation and denoted as pi beta-turns, occur as a part of hairpin bend connecting twisted beta-strands. Consecutive pi-turns occur, but only with pi alpha R-turns. The preference for amino acid residues is different in pi alpha L and pi alpha R-turns. However, both show a preference for Pro after the C-termini. Hydrophilic residues are preferred at positions i + 1, i + 2, and i + 3 of pi alpha L-turns, whereas positions i and i + 5 prefer hydrophobic residues. Residue i + 4 in pi alpha L-turns is mainly Gly and less often Asn. Although pi alpha R-turns generally occur as distortions in helices, their amino acid preference is different from that of helices. Poor helix formers, such as His, Tyr, and Asn, also were found to be preferred for pi alpha R-turns, whereas good helix former Ala is not preferred. pi-Turns in peptides provide a picture of the pi-turn at atomic resolution. Only nine peptide-based pi-turns are reported so far, and all of them belong to pi alpha L-turn type with an achiral residue in position i + 4. The results are of importance for structure prediction, modeling, and de novo design of proteins.

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