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Biochemistry. 2007 Jun 19;46(24):7099-106. Epub 2007 May 22.

Role of the extracellular loop in the folding of a CFTR transmembrane helical hairpin.

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Division of Molecular Structure and Function, Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8, Canada.


The folding of membrane-spanning domains into their native functional forms depends on interactions between transmembrane (TM) helices joined by covalent loops. However, the importance of these covalent linker regions in mediating the strength of helix-helix associations has not been systematically addressed. Here we examine the potential structural impact of cystic fibrosis-phenotypic mutations in the extracellular loop 2 (ECL2) on interactions between the TM3 and TM4 helices of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) in constructs containing CFTR residues 194-241. When the effects of replacements in ECL2 (including the CF-phenotypic mutants E217G and Q220R) were evaluated in a library of wild-type and mutant TM3-ECL2-TM4 hairpin constructs, we found that SDS-PAGE gel migration rates differed over a range of nearly 40% +/- the wild-type position and that decreased migration rates correlate with increasing hairpin alpha-helical content as measured by circular dichroism spectra in sodium dodecyl sulfate micelles. The decreased mobility of TM3/4 constructs by introduction of non-native residues is interpreted in terms of an elongation or "opening" of the helical hairpin and concomitant destabilization of membrane-based helix-helix interactions. Our results support a role for short loop regions in dictating the stability of membrane protein folds and highlight the interplay between membrane-embedded helix-helix interactions and loop conformation in influencing the structure of membrane proteins.

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