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J Mol Biol. 2003 Feb 7;326(1):273-91.

Sequence and structure patterns in proteins from an analysis of the shortest helices: implications for helix nucleation.

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Department of Biochemistry, Bose Institute, P-1/12 CIT Scheme VIIM, 700 054, Calcutta, India.


The shortest helices (three-length 3(10) and four-length alpha), most abundant among helices of different lengths, have been analyzed from a database of protein structures. A characteristic feature of three-length 3(10)-helices is the shifted backbone conformation for the C-terminal residue (phi,psi angles: -95 degrees,0 degrees ), compared to the rest of the helix (-62 degrees,-24 degrees ). The deviation can be attributed to the release of electrostatic repulsion between the carbonyl oxygen atoms at the two C-terminal residues and further stabilization (due to a more linear geometry) of an intrahelical hydrogen bond. A consequence of this non-canonical C-terminal backbone conformation can be a potential origin of helix kinks when a 3(10)-helix is sequence-contiguous at the alpha-helix N-terminal. An analysis of hydrogen bonding, as well as hydrophobic interactions in the shortest helices shows that capping interactions, some of them not observed for longer helices, dominate at the N termini. Further, consideration of the distribution of amino acid residues indicates that the shortest helices resemble the N-terminal end of alpha-helices rather than the C terminus, implying that the folding of helices may be initiated at the N-terminal end, which does not get propagated in the case of the shortest helices. Finally, pairwise comparison of beta-turns and the shortest helices, based on correlation matrices of site-specific amino acid composition, and the relative abundance of these short secondary structural elements, leads to a helix nucleation scheme that considers the formation of an isolated beta-turn (and not an alpha-turn) as the helix nucleation step, with shortest 3(10)-helices as intermediates between the shortest alpha-helix and the beta-turn. Our results ascribe an important role played by shortest 3(10)-helices in proteins with important structural and folding implications.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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