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J Mol Biol. 2002 May 24;319(1):243-53.

A hierarchic approach to the design of hexameric helical barrels.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, The Johnson Research Foundation, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Stellar Chance Building, Room 1010, 421 Curie Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6059, USA.


The design of large macromolecular assemblies is an endeavor with implications for protein engineering as well as nanotechnology. A hierarchic approach was used to design an antiparallel hexameric, tubular assembly of helices. In previous studies, a domain-swapped, dimeric three-helix bundle was designed from first principles. In the crystal lattice, three dimers associate around a 3-fold rotational axis to form a hexameric assembly. Although this hexameric assembly was not observed in solution, it was possible to stabilize its formation by changing three polar residues per monomer to hydrophobic (two Phe and one Trp) residues. Molecular models based on the crystallographic coordinates of DSD (PDB accession code 1G6U) show that these side-chains pack in the central cavity (the "supercore") of the hexameric bundle. Analytical ultracentrifugation, fluorescence spectroscopy, CD spectroscopy, and guanidine-HCl denaturation were used to determine the assembly of the hexamer. To probe the requirements for stabilizing the hexamer, we systematically varied the polarity and steric bulk of one of the Phe residues in the supercore of the hexamer. Depending on the nature of this side-chain, it is possible to modulate the stability of the hexamer in a predictable manner. This family of hexameric proteins may provide a useful framework for the construction of proteins that change their oligomeric states in response to binding of small molecules.

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