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Nature. 1979 Sep 6;281(5726):83-4.

An incipient 3(10) helix in Piv-Pro-Pro-Ala-NHMe as a model for peptide folding.


The molecular mechanism of helix nucleation in peptides and proteins is not yet understood and the question of whether sharp turns in the polypeptide backbone serve as nuclei for protein folding has evoked controversy. A recent study of the conformation of a tetrapeptide containing the stereochemically constrained residue alpha-aminoisobutyric acid, both in solution and the solid state, yielded a structure consisting of two consecutive beta-turns, leading to an incipient 3(10) helical conformation. :This led us to speculate that specific tri- and tetrapeptide sequences may indeed provide a helical twist to the amino-terminal segment of helical regions in proteins and provide a nucleation site for further propagation. The transformation from a 3(10) helical structure to an alpha-helix should be facile and requires only small changes in the phi and psi conformational angles and a rearrangement of the hydrogen bonding pattern. If such a mechanism is involved then it should be possible to isolate an incipient 3(10) helical conformation in a tripeptide amide or tetrapeptide sequence, based purely on the driving force derived from short-range interactions. We have synthesised and studied the model peptide pivaloyl-Pro-Pro-Ala-NHMe (compound I) and provide here spectroscopic evidence for a 3(10) helical conformation in compound I.

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