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Biophys J. 2001 Sep;81(3):1475-85.

Barrel-stave model or toroidal model? A case study on melittin pores.

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  • 1Department of Physics and Astronomy, Rice University Houston, Texas 77251, USA.


Transmembrane pores induced by amphiphilic peptides, including melittin, are often modeled with the barrel-stave model after the alamethicin pore. We examine this assumption on melittin by using two methods, oriented circular dichroism (OCD) for detecting the orientation of melittin helix and neutron scattering for detecting transmembrane pores. OCD spectra of melittin were systematically measured. Melittin can orient either perpendicularly or parallel to a lipid bilayer, depending on the physical condition and the composition of the bilayer. Transmembrane pores were detected when the helices oriented perpendicularly to the plane of the bilayers, not when the helices oriented parallel to the bilayers. The evidence that led to the barrel-stave model for alamethicin and that to the toroidal model for magainin were reviewed. The properties of melittin pores are closely similar to that of magainin but unlike that of alamethicin. We conclude that, among naturally produced peptides that we have investigated, only alamethicin conforms to the barrel-stave model. Other peptides, including magainins, melittin and protegrins, all appear to induce transmembrane pores that conform to the toroidal model in which the lipid monolayer bends continuously through the pore so that the water core is lined by both the peptides and the lipid headgroups.

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