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Int J Pept Protein Res. 1988 Jan;31(1):1-16.

Stereochemistry of collagen.

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Mathematical Philosophy Group, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.


This review article, based on a lecture delivered in Madras in 1985, is an account of the author's experience in the working out of the molecular structure and conformation of the collagen triple-helix over the years 1952-78. It starts with the first proposal of the correct triple-helix in 1954, but with three residues per turn, which was later refined in 1955 into a coiled-coil structure with approximately 3.3 residues per turn. The structure readily fitted proline and hydroxyproline residues and required glycine as every third residue in each of the three chains. The controversy regarding the number of hydrogen bonds per tripeptide could not be resolved by X-ray diffraction or energy minimization, but physicochemical data, obtained in other laboratories during 1961-65, strongly pointed to two hydrogen bonds, as suggested by the author. However, it was felt that the structure with one straight NH...O bond was better. A reconciliation of the two was obtained in Chicago in 1968, by showing that the second hydrogen bond is via a water molecule, which makes it weaker, as found in the physicochemical studies mentioned above. This water molecule was also shown, in 1973, to take part in further cross-linking hydrogen bonds with the OH group of hydroxyproline, which occurred always in the location previous to glycine, and is at the right distance from the water. Thus, almost all features of the primary structure, X-ray pattern, optical and hydrodynamic data, and the role of hydroxyproline in stabilising the triple helical structure, have been satisfactorily accounted for. These also lead to a confirmation of Pauling's theory that vitamin C improves immunity to diseases, as explained in the last section.

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