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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Jun;1788(6):1321-31. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2009.02.017. Epub 2009 Mar 2.

Polar residues in transmembrane helices can decrease electrophoretic mobility in polyacrylamide gels without causing helix dimerization.

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Department of Chemistry, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA.


There are only a few available methods to study lateral interactions and self assembly of transmembrane helices. One of the most frequently used methods is sodium dodecylsulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) which can report on strong interactions between peptides in SDS solution. Here we offer a cautionary tale about studying the folding and assembly of membrane proteins using peptides and SDS-PAGE experiments as a membrane mimetic system. At least for the specific peptide and detergent systems studied here, we show that a polar asparagine residue in the 12th position of an otherwise hydrophobic helical segment of 20 amino acids causes a peptide to migrate on SDS-PAGE gels with an apparent molecular weight that is twice its true molecular weight, suggesting dimerization. However when examined carefully in SDS solutions and in situ in the polyacrylamide gel itself using Forster resonance energy transfer no interaction can be detected. Instead we show evidence suggesting that differential interactions between peptide and detergent drive the differences in electrophoretic mobility without any interaction between peptides. These results emphasize the need to apply multiple independent techniques to the study of membrane protein folding, and they highlight the usefulness of studying folding and structure of membrane proteins in lipid membranes rather than in detergents.

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