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J Mol Biol. 1990 Dec 5;216(3):783-96.

Reverse turns in blocked dipeptides are intrinsically unstable in water.

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Department of Chemistry, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.


We have carried out molecular dynamics simulations to study the conformational equilibria of two blocked dipeptides, Ac-Ala-Ala-NHMe and trans-Ac-Pro-Ala-NHMe, in water (Ac, amino-terminal blocking group COCH3; NHMe, carboxy-terminal blocking group NHCH3). Using specialized sampling techniques we computed free-energy surfaces as functions of a conformation co-ordinate that corresponds to hydrogen-bonded reverse turns at small values and to extended conformations at large values. The free-energy difference between hydrogen-bonded reverse turn conformations and extended conformations, determined from the equilibrium constants for reverse turn unfolding, is approximately -5 kcal/mole for Ac-Ala-Ala-NHMe, and -10 kcal/mole for Ac-Pro-Ala-NHMe. These results demonstrate that reverse turns in blocked dipeptides are intrinsically unstable in water. That is, in the absence of strongly stabilizing sequence-specific inter-residue interactions involving side-chains and/or charged terminal groups, the extended conformations of small peptides are highly favored in solution. By thermodynamically decomposing the free-energy differences, we found that the peptide-water entropy is the primary reason for the exceptional stability of the extended conformations of both peptides, and that the differences between the two peptides are primarily due to differences in the peptide-water interactions. In addition, we assessed the "proline effect" on the conformational equilibria by comparing the differences in configurational entropies between the reverse turn and extended conformations of the two peptides. As expected, the extended conformation of the Pro-Ala peptide is destabilized by reduced configurational entropy, but the effect is negligible in the blocked dipeptides. Finally, we compared our results with the results of several other experimental studies to identify some of the specific interactions that may be responsible for stabilizing reverse turns in small peptides in solution.

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