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Biophys J. 1999 Sep;77(3):1609-18.

Helix packing in polytopic membrane proteins: role of glycine in transmembrane helix association.

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Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8114, USA.


The nature and distribution of amino acids in the helix interfaces of four polytopic membrane proteins (cytochrome c oxidase, bacteriorhodopsin, the photosynthetic reaction center of Rhodobacter sphaeroides, and the potassium channel of Streptomyces lividans) are studied to address the role of glycine in transmembrane helix packing. In contrast to soluble proteins where glycine is a noted helix breaker, the backbone dihedral angles of glycine in transmembrane helices largely fall in the standard alpha-helical region of a Ramachandran plot. An analysis of helix packing reveals that glycine residues in the transmembrane region of these proteins are predominantly oriented toward helix-helix interfaces and have a high occurrence at helix crossing points. Moreover, packing voids are generally not formed at the position of glycine in folded protein structures. This suggests that transmembrane glycine residues mediate helix-helix interactions in polytopic membrane proteins in a fashion similar to that seen in oligomers of membrane proteins with single membrane-spanning helices. The picture that emerges is one where glycine residues serve as molecular notches for orienting multiple helices in a folded protein complex.

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