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Biochemistry. 2004 Oct 12;43(40):12716-22.

Topogenesis of membrane proteins at the endoplasmic reticulum.

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Biozentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 70, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


Most eukaryotic membrane proteins are cotranslationally integrated into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane by the Sec61 translocation complex. They are targeted to the translocon by hydrophobic signal sequences, which induce the translocation of either their N- or their C-terminal sequence. Signal sequence orientation is largely determined by charged residues flanking the apolar sequence (the positive-inside rule), folding properties of the N-terminal segment, and the hydrophobicity of the signal. Recent in vivo experiments suggest that N-terminal signals initially insert into the translocon head-on to yield a translocated N-terminus. Driven by a local electrical potential, the signal may invert its orientation and translocate the C-terminal sequence. Increased hydrophobicity slows down inversion by stabilizing the initial bound state. In vitro cross-linking studies indicate that signals rapidly contact lipids upon entering the translocon. Together with the recent crystal structure of the homologous SecYEbeta translocation complex of Methanococcus jannaschii, which did not reveal an obvious hydrophobic binding site for signals within the pore, a model emerges in which the translocon allows the lateral partitioning of hydrophobic segments between the aqueous pore and the lipid membrane. Signals may return into the pore for reorientation until translation is terminated. Subsequent transmembrane segments in multispanning proteins behave similarly and contribute to the overall topology of the protein.

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