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Nature. 2008 Jun 26;453(7199):1266-70. doi: 10.1038/nature06977. Epub 2008 May 25.

Modest stabilization by most hydrogen-bonded side-chain interactions in membrane proteins.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UCLA-DOE Center for Genomics and Proteomics, Molecular Biology Institute, USA.


Understanding the energetics of molecular interactions is fundamental to all of the central quests of structural biology including structure prediction and design, mapping evolutionary pathways, learning how mutations cause disease, drug design, and relating structure to function. Hydrogen-bonding is widely regarded as an important force in a membrane environment because of the low dielectric constant of membranes and a lack of competition from water. Indeed, polar residue substitutions are the most common disease-causing mutations in membrane proteins. Because of limited structural information and technical challenges, however, there have been few quantitative tests of hydrogen-bond strength in the context of large membrane proteins. Here we show, by using a double-mutant cycle analysis, that the average contribution of eight interhelical side-chain hydrogen-bonding interactions throughout bacteriorhodopsin is only 0.6 kcal mol(-1). In agreement with these experiments, we find that 4% of polar atoms in the non-polar core regions of membrane proteins have no hydrogen-bond partner and the lengths of buried hydrogen bonds in soluble proteins and membrane protein transmembrane regions are statistically identical. Our results indicate that most hydrogen-bond interactions in membrane proteins are only modestly stabilizing. Weak hydrogen-bonding should be reflected in considerations of membrane protein folding, dynamics, design, evolution and function.

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