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Biophys J. 2002 May;82(5):2720-36.

Comparison of helix interactions in membrane and soluble alpha-bundle proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Center for Structural Biology, SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794-5115, USA.


Helix-helix interactions are important for the folding, stability, and function of membrane proteins. Here, two independent and complementary methods are used to investigate the nature and distribution of amino acids that mediate helix-helix interactions in membrane and soluble alpha-bundle proteins. The first method characterizes the packing density of individual amino acids in helical proteins based on the van der Waals surface area occluded by surrounding atoms. We have recently used this method to show that transmembrane helices pack more tightly, on average, than helices in soluble proteins. These studies are extended here to characterize the packing of interfacial and noninterfacial amino acids and the packing of amino acids in the interfaces of helices that have either right- or left-handed crossing angles, and either parallel or antiparallel orientations. We show that the most abundant tightly packed interfacial residues in membrane proteins are Gly, Ala, and Ser, and that helices with left-handed crossing angles are more tightly packed on average than helices with right-handed crossing angles. The second method used to characterize helix-helix interactions involves the use of helix contact plots. We find that helices in membrane proteins exhibit a broader distribution of interhelical contacts than helices in soluble proteins. Both helical membrane and soluble proteins make use of a general motif for helix interactions that relies mainly on four residues (Leu, Ala, Ile, Val) to mediate helix interactions in a fashion characteristic of left-handed helical coiled coils. However, a second motif for mediating helix interactions is revealed by the high occurrence and high average packing values of small and polar residues (Ala, Gly, Ser, Thr) in the helix interfaces of membrane proteins. Finally, we show that there is a strong linear correlation between the occurrence of residues in helix-helix interfaces and their packing values, and discuss these results with respect to membrane protein structure prediction and membrane protein stability.

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