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Eur J Biochem. 1991 Mar 28;196(3):599-607.

Membrane insertion of the pore-forming domain of colicin A. A spectroscopic study.

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European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Federal Republic of Germany.


In order to gain some insight into the mechanism of insertion into membranes of the pore-forming domain of colicin A and the structure of its membrane-bound form, circular dichroism (in the near and far ultraviolet), fluorescence and ultraviolet spectroscopy experiments were carried out. Because the structure of the water-soluble form of this fragment has been determined by X-ray crystallography, these spectroscopic methods provided valuable information on the secondary structure and the environment of aromatic residues within the two forms of the peptide. These results strongly suggest that the pore-forming domain of colicin A does not undergo drastic unfolding upon insertion into membrane. The conformational change associated with this process is triggered by the negatively charged lipids and probably consists of a reorientation of helix pairs with respect to each other. Exposure of the aromatic residues to the aqueous phase decreases on binding to lipids whilst the exposure of the tryptophans to the membrane phase increases. This cannot occur without a reorientation of helices 3-10. All data from this study support the model presented previously in which the known crystal structure opens like an 'umbrella' inserting the hydrophobic hairpin (helix 8-9) perpendicular to the membrane plane and the helical pair 1-2 and the domain containing the three tryptophans (helices 3-7) lying more or less parallel to the membrane plane. Lipids are bound more tightly to the protein at acidic pH than at neutral pH although a similar lipid protein complex is formed with 1,2-dimyristoyl-sn-glycero(3)-phospho(1)- -sn-glycerol at both pH values.

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