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Biophys J. 2006 Dec 15;91(12):4450-63. Epub 2006 Sep 29.

Amino-acid solvation structure in transmembrane helices from molecular dynamics simulations.

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Stockholm Bioinformatics Center, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden.


Understanding the solvation of amino acids in biomembranes is an important step to better explain membrane protein folding. Several experimental studies have shown that polar residues are both common and important in transmembrane segments, which means they have to be solvated in the hydrophobic membrane, at least until helices have aggregated to form integral proteins. In this work, we have used computer simulations to unravel these interactions on the atomic level, and classify intramembrane solvation properties of amino acids. Simulations have been performed for systematic mutations in poly-Leu helices, including not only each amino acid type, but also every z-position in a model helix. Interestingly, many polar or charged residues do not desolvate completely, but rather retain hydration by snorkeling or pulling in water/headgroups--even to the extent where many of them exist in a microscopic polar environment, with hydration levels corresponding well to experimental hydrophobicity scales. This suggests that even for polar/charged residues a large part of solvation cost is due to entropy, not enthalpy loss. Both hydration level and hydrogen bonding exhibit clear position-dependence. Basic side chains cause much less membrane distortion than acidic, since they are able to form hydrogen bonds with carbonyl groups instead of water or headgroups. This preference is supported by sequence statistics, where basic residues have increased relative occurrence at carbonyl z-coordinates. Snorkeling effects and N-/C-terminal orientation bias are directly observed, which significantly reduces the effective thickness of the hydrophobic core. Aromatic side chains intercalate efficiently with lipid chains (improving Trp/Tyr anchoring to the interface) and Ser/Thr residues are stabilized by hydroxyl groups sharing hydrogen bonds to backbone oxygens.

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