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Protein Sci. Jun 1999; 8(6): 1257–1267.
PMCID: PMC2144353

A functional protein pore with a "retro" transmembrane domain.


Extended retro (reversed) peptide sequences have not previously been accommodated within functional proteins. Here, we show that the entire transmembrane portion of the beta-barrel of the pore-forming protein alpha-hemolysin can be formed by retrosequences comprising a total of 175 amino acid residues, 25 contributed by the central sequence of each subunit of the heptameric pore. The properties of wild-type and retro heptamers in planar bilayers are similar. The single-channel conductance of the retro pore is 15% less than that of the wild-type heptamer and its current-voltage relationship denotes close to ohmic behavior, while the wild-type pore is weakly rectifying. Both wild-type and retro pores are very weakly anion selective. These results and the examination of molecular models suggest that beta-barrels may be especially accepting of retro sequences compared to other protein folds. Indeed, the ability to form a retro domain could be diagnostic of a beta-barrel, explaining, for example, the activity of the retro forms of many membrane-permeabilizing peptides. By contrast with the wild-type subunits, monomeric retro subunits undergo premature assembly in the absence of membranes, most likely because the altered central sequence fails to interact with the remainder of the subunit, thereby initiating assembly. Despite this difficulty, a technique was devised for obtaining heteromeric pores containing both wild-type and retro subunits. Most probably as a consequence of unfavorable interstrand side-chain interactions, the heteromeric pores are less stable than either the wild-type or retro homoheptamers, as judged by the presence of subconductance states in single-channel recordings. Knowledge about the extraordinary plasticity of the transmembrane beta-barrel of alpha-hemolysin will be very useful in the de novo design of functional membrane proteins based on the beta-barrel motif.

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Selected References

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