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Nature. 1983 Nov 17-23;306(5940):281-3.

Solvent-induced distortions and the curvature of alpha-helices.


The alpha-helix defined in 1951 by Pauling et al. on the basis of model building and X-ray fibre diffraction data has 3.65 residues per turn (n) achieved with planar peptides, torsion angles of phi = -48 degrees and psi = -57 degrees and hydrogen bonds which are close to linear. Although X-ray analyses of proteins have confirmed the general correctness of the model for the helix, recent high resolution (1.7-1.0 A) diffraction studies have shown that the parameters described by Pauling et al. and later by Perutz and Arnott and Wonacott are not a good description of the alpha-helices in globular proteins, where the mean values of phi, psi are usually close to -63 degrees, -42 degrees. Here we show that these values arise as a mean of two significantly different classes in amphipathic helices depending on whether the peptide carbonyl oxygen is hydrogen bonded to a solvent or polar side-chain atom. The hydrogen bonds made by the hydrophilic carbonyls to the NH groups within helices are longer and less linear than those involving hydrophobic carbonyls. We also show that these effects are associated with a significant curvature of helices in globular proteins. For example, the alpha-helix in avian pancreatic peptide (aPP) has a radius of curvature of approximately 70 A. These results are of significance in the packing of helices in fibrous and globular proteins, in the calculation of their dipole moments, solvent accessibilities and internal energies, and in the theoretical estimation of spectroscopic properties such as circular dichroism and Raman scattering.

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