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J Mol Biol. 2001 Apr 27;308(2):437-46.

Proline residues in transmembrane alpha helices affect the folding of bacteriorhodopsin.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine, South Kensington, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Proline residues occur frequently in transmembrane alpha helices, which contrasts with their behaviour as helix-breakers in water-soluble proteins. The three membrane-embedded proline residues of bacteriorhodopsin have been replaced individually by alanine and glycine to give P50A, or P50G on helix B, P91A, or P91G on helix C, and P186A or P186G on helix F, and the effect on the protein folding kinetics has been investigated. The rate-limiting apoprotein folding step, which results in formation of a seven transmembrane, alpha helical state, was slower than wild-type protein for the Pro50 and Pro91 mutants, regardless of whether they were mutated to Ala or Gly. These proline residues give rise to several inter-helix contacts, which are therefore important in folding to the seven transmembrane helix state. No evidence for cis-trans isomerisations of the peptidyl prolyl bonds was found during this rate-limiting apoprotein folding step. Mutations of all three membrane-embedded proline residues affected the subsequent retinal binding and final folding to bacteriorhodopsin, suggesting that these proline residues contribute to formation of the retinal binding pocket within the helix bundle, again via helix/helix interactions. These results point to proline residues in transmembrane alpha helices being important in the folding of integral membrane proteins. The helix/helix interactions and hydrogen bonds that arise from the presence of proline residues in transmembrane alpha helices can affect the formation of transmembrane alpha helix bundles as well as cofactor binding pockets.

Copyright 2001 Academic Press.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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