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J Mol Biol. 2007 Aug 10;371(2):422-34. Epub 2007 May 18.

Changes in apparent free energy of helix-helix dimerization in a biological membrane due to point mutations.

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Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


We present an implementation of the TOXCAT membrane protein self-association assay that measures the change in apparent free energy of transmembrane helix dimerization caused by point mutations. Quantifying the reporter gene expression from cells carrying wild-type and mutant constructs shows that single point mutations that disrupt dimerization of the transmembrane domain of glycophorin A reproducibly lower the TOXCAT signal more than 100-fold. Replicate cultures can show up to threefold changes in the level of expression of the membrane bound fusion construct, and correcting for these variations improves the precision of the calculated apparent free energy change. The remarkably good agreement between our TOXCAT apparent free energy scale and free energy differences from sedimentation equilibrium studies for point mutants of the glycophorin A transmembrane domain dimer indicate that sequence changes usually affect membrane helix-helix interactions quite similarly in these two very different environments. However, the effects of point mutations at threonine 87 suggest that intermonomer polar contacts by this side-chain contribute significantly to dimer stability in membranes but not in detergents. Our findings demonstrate that a comparison of quantitative measurements of helix-helix interactions in biological membranes and genuine thermodynamic data from biophysical measurements on purified proteins can elucidate how changes in the lipidic environment modulate membrane protein stability.

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