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Biopolymers. 1999;51(2):129-44.

Gramicidin D conformation, dynamics and membrane ion transport.

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Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Inc., 73 High Street, Buffalo, New York 14203-1196, USA.


The linear pentadecapeptide antibiotic, gramicidin D, a heterogeneous mixture of six components, is a naturally occurring product of Bacillus brevis known to form ion channels in synthetic and natural membranes. The conformation of gramicidin A in the solid state, in organic solvents, and in planar lipid bilayers and the relationship between the composition and the conformation of gramicidin and its selective transport of ions across membranes has been the subject of intense investigation for over 50 years. The x-ray crystal structure and nmr solution spectroscopy agree fully with one another and reveal that entirely different conformations of gramicidin are present in uncomplexed and ion complexed forms. Precise refinements of the three-dimensional structures of naturally occurring gramicidin D in crystals obtained from methanol, ethanol, and n-propanol demonstrate the unexpected presence of stable left-handed antiparallel double-helical heterodimers that vary with the crystallization solvent. The side chains of Trp residues in the three structures exhibit sequence-specific patterns of conformational preference. Tyr substitution for Trp at position 11 appears to favor beta ribbon formation and stabilization of the antiparallel double helix. This conformation acts as a template for gramicidin folding and nucleation of the different crystal forms. The fact that a minor component in a heterogeneous mixture influences aggregation and crystal nucleation has potential applications to other systems in which anomalous behavior is exhibited by aggregation of apparently homogeneous materials, such as the enigmatic behavior of prion proteins. The crystallographically determined structures of cesium, potassium, rubidium, and hydronium ion complexes of gramicidin A are in excellent agreement with the nmr structure determination of the cesium ion gramicidin complex in a methanol chloroform mixture (50 : 50). The right-handed antiparallel double stranded double helical structures (DSDHR) also exhibit geometric features compatible with the solid-state 15N and 2H nmr data recorded for gramicidin in planar lipid bilayers and attributed to the active form of gramicidin A. The DSDHR crystal structures reveal an ion channel with a single partially solvated cation distributed over three ion binding sites. The channel lumen is relatively smooth and electrostatically negative as required for cation passage, while the exterior is electrostatically neutral, a requirement for membrane insertion. The "coordination" of the Cs+ ion is achieved by interaction with the pi orbitals of the carbonyls which do not point toward the ions. The K+ binding sites, which are similar in position to Cs+ binding sites, are shifted off center slightly toward the wall of the channel.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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