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Biophys J. 2002 Jun;82(6):3207-13.

Influence of the environment in the conformation of alpha-helices studied by protein database search and molecular dynamics simulations.

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  • 1Laboratori de Medicina Computacional, Unitat de Bioestadística, Facultat de Medicina, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193 Bellaterra, Spain.


The influence of the solvent on the main-chain conformation (phi and Psi dihedral angles) of alpha-helices has been studied by complementary approaches. A first approach consisted in surveying crystal structures of both soluble and membrane proteins. The residues of analysis were further classified as exposed to either the water (polar solvent) or the lipid (apolar solvent) environment or buried to the core of the protein (intermediate polarity). The statistical results show that the more polar the environment, the lower the value of phi(i) and the higher the value of Psi(i) are. The intrahelical hydrogen bond distance increases in water-exposed residues due to the additional hydrogen bond between the peptide carbonyl oxygen and the aqueous environment. A second approach involved nanosecond molecular dynamics simulations of poly-Ala alpha-helices in environments of different polarity: water to mimic hydrophilic environments that can form hydrogen bonds with the peptide carbonyl oxygen and methane to mimic hydrophobic environments without this hydrogen bond capabilities. These simulations reproduce similar effects in phi and Psi angles and intrahelical hydrogen bond distance and angle as observed in the protein survey analysis. The magnitude of the intrahelical hydrogen bond in the methane environment is stronger than in the water environment, suggesting that alpha-helices in membrane-embedded proteins are less flexible than in soluble proteins. There is a remarkable coincidence between the phi and Psi angles obtained in the analysis of residues exposed to the lipid in membrane proteins and the results from computer simulations in methane, which suggests that this simulation protocol properly mimic the lipidic cell membrane and reproduce several structural characteristics of membrane-embedded proteins. Finally, we have compared the phi and Psi torsional angles of Pro kinks in membrane protein crystal structures and in computer simulations.

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