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Biopolymers. 1996;40(1):141-55.

Molecular structure and mechanisms of action of cyclic and linear ion transport antibiotics.

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Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Buffalo, New York, USA.


Ionophores are antibiotics that induce ion transport across natural and artificial membranes. The specific function of a given ionophore depends upon its selectivity and the kinetics of ion capture, transport, and release. Systematic studies of complexed and uncomplexed forms of linear and cyclic ionophores provide insight into molecular mechanisms of ion capture and release and the basis for ion selectivity. The cyclic dodecadepsipeptide valinomycin, cyclo[(-L-Val-D-Hyi-D-Val-L-Lac)3-], transports potassium ions across cellular membrane bilayers selectively. The x-ray crystallographic and nmr spectroscopic data concerning the structures of Na+, K+, and Ba+2 complexes are consistent and provide a rationale for the K+ selectivity of valinomycin. Three significantly different conformations of valinomycin are observed in anhydrous crystals, in hydrated crystals grown from dimethylsulfoxide, and in crystals grown from dioxane. Each of these conformations suggests a different mechanism of ion capture. One of the observed conformations has an elliptical structure stabilized by four 4<--1 intramolecular hydrogen bonds and two 5<--1 hydrogen bonds. Ion capture could be readily achieved by disruption of the 5<--1 hydrogen bonds to permit coordination to a potassium ion entering the cavity. The conformation found in crystals obtained from dimethyl sulfoxide is an open flower shape having three petals and three 4<--1 hydrogen bonds. Complexation could proceed by a closing up of the three petals of the flower around the desolvating ion. In the third form, water molecules reside in the central cavity of a bracelet structure having six 4<--1 hydrogen bonds. Two of these bracelets stack over one another with their valine-rich faces surrounding a dioxane molecule. The stacked molecules form a channel approximately 20 A in length, suggesting that under certain circumstances valinomycin might function as a channel. A series of analogues of valinomycin differing in ring composition and size have been synthesized and their transport properties tested. Peptide substitution and chiral variation in the dodecadepsipeptide can result in stabilization or modification of the different conformers. While contraction of the ring size results in loss of ion transport properties, expansion of the ring size permits complexation of larger ions and small positively charged molecules. Gramicidin A is a pentadecapeptide that functions as a transmembrane channel for transporting monovalent cations. Crystal structures of the cesium chloride complex and two uncomplexed forms of gramicidin A have been reported. In all three structures the gramicidin A molecule is a left-handed, antiparallel, double-stranded helical dimer. In the cesium complex the beta 7.2-helix has 6.4 residues per turn with an internal cavity large enough to accommodate cesium ions. In the uncomplexed structures the channel is 31 A long and has 5.6 amino acids per turn. Because the helix is too tightly wound to permit ion transport, ion transport would require breaking and reforming of hydrogen bonds.

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