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Biochemistry. 2002 May 14;41(19):5990-7.

GXXXG and AXXXA: common alpha-helical interaction motifs in proteins, particularly in extremophiles.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, UCLA-DOE Laboratory of Structural Biology and Molecular Medicine, Molecular Biology Institute, University of California at Los Angeles, P.O. Box 951570, Los Angeles, California 90095-1570, USA.


The GXXXG motif is a frequently occurring sequence of residues that is known to favor helix-helix interactions in membrane proteins. Here we show that the GXXXG motif is also prevalent in soluble proteins whose structures have been determined. Some 152 proteins from a non-redundant PDB set contain at least one alpha-helix with the GXXXG motif, 41 +/- 9% more than expected if glycine residues were uniformly distributed in those alpha-helices. More than 50% of the GXXXG-containing alpha-helices participate in helix-helix interactions. In fact, 26 of those helix-helix interactions are structurally similar to the helix-helix interaction of the glycophorin A dimer, where two transmembrane helices associate to form a dimer stabilized by the GXXXG motif. As for the glycophorin A structure, we find backbone-to-backbone atomic contacts of the C alpha-H...O type in each of these 26 helix-helix interactions that display the stereochemical hallmarks of hydrogen bond formation. These glycophorin A-like helix-helix interactions are enriched in the general set of helix-helix interactions containing the GXXXG motif, suggesting that the inferred C alpha-H...O hydrogen bonds stabilize the helix-helix interactions. In addition to the GXXXG motif, some 808 proteins from the non-redundant PDB set contain at least one alpha-helix with the AXXXA motif (30 +/- 3% greater than expected). Both the GXXXG and AXXXA motifs occur frequently in predicted alpha-helices from 24 fully sequenced genomes. Occurrence of the AXXXA motif is enhanced to a greater extent in thermophiles than in mesophiles, suggesting that helical interaction based on the AXXXA motif may be a common mechanism of thermostability in protein structures. We conclude that the GXXXG sequence motif stabilizes helix-helix interactions in proteins, and that the AXXXA sequence motif also stabilizes the folded state of proteins.

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