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Nat Chem Biol. 2012 Sep;8(9):759-68. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.1021. Epub 2012 Jul 15.

Architectural and thermodynamic principles underlying intramembrane protease function.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Intramembrane proteases hydrolyze peptide bonds within the membrane as a signaling paradigm universal to all life forms and with implications in disease. Deciphering the architectural strategies supporting intramembrane proteolysis is an essential but unattained goal. We integrated new, quantitative and high-throughput thermal light-scattering technology, reversible equilibrium unfolding and refolding and quantitative protease assays to interrogate rhomboid architecture with 151 purified variants. Rhomboid proteases maintain low intrinsic thermodynamic stability (ΔG = 2.1-4.5 kcal mol(-1)) resulting from a multitude of generally weak transmembrane packing interactions, making them highly responsive to their environment. Stability is consolidated by two buried glycines and several packing leucines, with a few multifaceted hydrogen bonds strategically deployed to two peripheral regions. Opposite these regions lie transmembrane segment 5 and connected loops that are notably exempt of structural responsibility, suggesting intramembrane proteolysis involves considerable but localized protein dynamics. Our analyses provide a comprehensive 'heat map' of the physiochemical anatomy underlying membrane-immersed enzyme function at, what is to our knowledge, unprecedented resolution.

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