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J Mol Biol. 1998 Apr 17;277(5):1091-110.

Folding of beta-sheet membrane proteins: a hydrophobic hexapeptide model.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-4560, USA.


Beta-sheets, in the form of the beta-barrel folding motif, are found in several constitutive membrane proteins (porins) and in several microbial toxins that assemble on membranes to form oligomeric transmembrane channels. We report here a first step towards understanding the principles of beta-sheet formation in membranes. In particular, we describe the properties of a simple hydrophobic hexapeptide, acetyl-Trp-Leu5 (AcWL5), that assembles cooperatively into beta-sheet aggregates upon partitioning into lipid bilayer membranes from the aqueous phase where the peptide is strictly monomeric and random coil. The aggregates, containing 10 to 20 monomers, undergo a relatively sharp and reversible thermal unfolding at approximately 60 degreesC. No pores are formed by the aggregates, but they do induce graded leakage of vesicle contents at very high peptide to lipid ratios. Because beta-sheet structure is not observed when the peptide is dissolved in n-octanol, trifluoroethanol or sodium dodecyl sulfate micelles, aggregation into beta-sheets appears to be an exclusive property of the peptide in the bilayer membrane interface. This is an expected consequence of the hypothesis that a reduction in the free energy of partitioning of peptide bonds caused by hydrogen bonding drives secondary structure formation in membrane interfaces. But, other features of interfacial partitioning, such as side-chain interactions and reduction of dimensionality, must also contribute. We estimate from our partitioning data that the free energy reduction per residue for aggregation is about 0.5 kcal mol-1. Although modest, its aggregate effect on the free energy of assembling beta-sheet proteins can be huge. This surprising finding, that a simple hydrophobic hexapeptide readily assembles into oligomeric beta-sheets in membranes, reveals the potent ability of membranes to promote secondary structure in peptides, and shows that the formation of beta-sheets in membranes is more facile than expected. Furthermore, it provides a basis for understanding the observation that membranes promote self-association of beta-amyloid peptides. AcWL5 and related peptides thus provide a good starting point for designing peptide models for exploring the principles of beta-sheet formation in membranes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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