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Protein Sci. 2015 May;24(5):841-9. doi: 10.1002/pro.2657. Epub 2015 Mar 25.

Aromatic cluster mutations produce focal modulations of β-sheet structure.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Chicago, 929 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60637.


Site-directed mutagenesis is a powerful tool for altering the structure and function of proteins in a focused manner. Here, we examined how a model β-sheet protein could be tuned by mutation of numerous surface-exposed residues to aromatic amino acids. We designed these aromatic side chain "clusters" at highly solvent-exposed positions in the flat, single-layer β-sheet of Borrelia outer surface protein A (OspA). This unusual β-sheet scaffold allows us to interrogate the effects of these mutations in the context of well-defined structure but in the absence of the strong scaffolding effects of globular protein architecture. We anticipated that the introduction of a cluster of aromatic amino acid residues on the β-sheet surface would result in large conformational changes and/or stabilization and thereby provide new means of controlling the properties of β-sheets. Surprisingly, X-ray crystal structures revealed that the introduction of aromatic clusters produced only subtle conformational changes in the OspA β-sheet. Additionally, despite burying a large degree of hydrophobic surface area, the aromatic cluster mutants were slightly less stable than the wild-type scaffold. These results thereby demonstrate that the introduction of aromatic cluster mutations can serve as a means for subtly modulating β-sheet conformation in protein design.


beta-sheet formation; conformational stability; protein design; secondary structure

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