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J Chem Inf Model. 2011 Jul 25;51(7):1623-33. doi: 10.1021/ci200062e. Epub 2011 Jun 27.

Aromatic-aromatic interactions in proteins: beyond the dimer.

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Departamento de Química Biológica, Analítica y Química Física/INQUIMAE-CONICET, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria, Pabellón 2, Buenos Aires, C1428EHA, Argentina.


Aromatic residues are key widespread elements of protein structures and have been shown to be important for structure stability, folding, protein-protein recognition, and ligand binding. The interactions of pairs of aromatic residues (aromatic dimers) have been extensively studied in protein structures. Isolated aromatic molecules tend to form higher order clusters, like trimers, tetramers, and pentamers, that adopt particular well-defined structures. Taking this into account, we have surveyed protein structures deposited in the Protein Data Bank in order to find clusters of aromatic residues in proteins larger than dimers and characterized them. Our results show that larger clusters are found in one of every two unique proteins crystallized so far, that the clusters are built adopting the same trimer motifs found for benzene clusters in vacuum, and that they are clearly nonlocal brining primary structure distant sites together. We extensively analyze the trimers and tetramers conformations and found two main cluster types: a symmetric cluster and an extended ladder. Finally, using calmodulin as a test case, we show aromatic clsuters possible role in folding and protein-protein interactions. All together, our study highlights the relevance of aromatic clusters beyond the dimer in protein function, stability, and ligand recognition.

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