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Proteins. 2010 Nov 1;78(14):2895-907. doi: 10.1002/prot.22809.

A structural dissection of amino acid substitutions in helical transmembrane proteins.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


The evolution of protein folds is under strong constraints from their surrounding environment. Although folding in water-soluble proteins is driven primarily by hydrophobic forces, the nature of the forces that determine the folding and stability of transmembrane proteins are still not fully understood. Furthermore, the chemically heterogeneous lipid bilayer has a non-uniform effect on protein structure. In this article, we attempt to get an insight into the nature of this effect by examining the impact of various types of local structure environment on amino acid substitution, based on alignments of high-resolution structures of polytopic helical transmembrane proteins combined with sequences of close homologs. Compared to globular proteins, burying amino acid sidechains, especially hydrophilic ones, led to a lower increase in conservation in both the lipid-water interface region and the hydrocarbon core region. This observation is due to surface residues in HTM proteins especially in the HC region being relatively highly conserved, suggesting higher evolutionary constraints from their specific interactions with the surrounding lipid molecules. Polar and small residues, particularly Pro and Gly, show a noticeable increase in conservation as they are positioned more towards the centre of the membrane, which is consistent with their recognized key roles in structural stability. In addition, the examination of hydrogen bonds in the membrane environment identified some exposed hydrophilic residues being better conserved when not hydrogen-bonded to other residues, supporting the importance of lipid-protein sidechain interactions. The conclusions presented in this study highlight the distinct features of substitution matrices that take into account the membrane environment, and their potential role in improving sequence-structure alignments of transmembrane proteins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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