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J Biol Chem. 1996 Feb 23;271(8):3995-4001.

Formation of parallel and antiparallel coiled-coils controlled by the relative positions of alanine residues in the hydrophobic core.

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Department of Biochemistry and the Protein Engineering Network of Centers of Excellence, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2H7.


The orientation of alpha-helical chains in two-stranded coiled-coils has been shown to be determined by the presence of favorable interchain electrostatic interactions. In this study, we used de novo designed 35-residue peptides to show that when interchain electrostatic interactions are not a factor in coiled-coil formation, the relative positions of Ala residues in the middle heptad can control the parallel or antiparallel orientation of alpha-helical chains in coiled-coils. The peptides formed four-stranded coiled-coils where the helices are either all-parallel or all-antiparallel with respect to their nearest neighbor. The common structural element in these four-stranded coiled-coils is an alternating pair of Ala and Leu residues (Ala-Leu-Ala-Leu) in each of the two planes in the middle heptad. These results indicate that both the relative positions of the Ala residues in the hydrophobic core and the interchain electrostatic interactions between charged residues in the e and g positions should be considered in designing coiled-coils with the desired number of strands in the multiple-stranded assembly. These design elements are also important in orienting functional groups or domains attached to the terminals ends of a coiled-coil carrier.

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