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J Mol Biol. 2002 Oct 25;323(3):563-71.

Standardizing the free energy change of transmembrane helix-helix interactions.

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  • 1Department of Biophysics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


Side-to-side associations of transmembrane alpha-helices are integral components of the structure and function of helical membrane proteins. A fundamental unknown in the understanding of the chemical principles driving the lateral interactions between transmembrane alpha-helices is the balance of forces arising from the polypeptide sequence versus the hydrophobic solvent. To begin to address this question, a consideration of basic thermodynamic principles has been applied to assess the experimental free energy change associated with transmembrane helix dimerization in micelles. This analysis demonstrates the ability to partition the apparent free energy of transmembrane helix-helix association into two components. The first component is a statistical energy term, which arises from the fact that there are an unequal number of reactants and products. The second component is a standard state free energy change, which informs on the molecular details of the transmembrane helix self-association reaction. The advantage of separating these two energy terms arises from the fact that extrapolation to the standard state free energy change normalizes the statistical energy term so that it applies equivalently in all experimental systems. Accompanying experimental results for the glycophorin A transmembrane alpha-helix dimer measured in micelles are well described by these theoretical components assuming an ideal-dilute solution.

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