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Biochemistry. 1998 Jun 2;37(22):8153-62.

The orientation of nisin in membranes.

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Department Biochemistry of Membranes, Centre for Biomembranes and Lipid Enzymology, Institute of Biomembranes, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


Nisin is a 34 residue long peptide belonging to the group A lantibiotics with antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive bacteria. The antimicrobial activity is based on pore formation in the cytoplasmic membrane of target organisms. The mechanism which leads to pore formation remains to be clarified. We studied the orientation of nisin via site-directed tryptophan fluorescence spectroscopy. Therefore, we engineered three nisin Z variants with unique tryptophan residues at positions 1, 17, and 32, respectively. The activity of the tryptophan mutants against Gram-positive bacteria and in model membrane systems composed of DOPC or DOPG was established to be similar to that of wild type nisin Z. The tryptophan fluorescence emission maximum showed an increasing blue-shift upon interaction with vesicles containing increased amounts of DOPG, with the largest effect for the 1W peptide. Studies with the aqueous quencher acrylamide showed that all tryptophans became inaccessible from the aqueous phase in the presence of negatively charged lipids in the vesicles. From these results it is concluded that anionic lipids mediate insertion of the tryptophan residues in at least three positions of the molecule into the lipid bilayer. The depth of insertion of the tryptophan residues was determined via quenching of the tryptophan fluorescence by spin-labeled lipids. The results showed that the depth of insertion was dependent on the amount of negatively charged lipids. In membranes containing 50% DOPG, the distances from the bilayer center were determined to be 15.7, 15.0, and 18.4 A for the tryptophan at position 1, 17, and 32, respectively. In membranes containing 90% DOPG, these distances were calculated to be 10.8, 11.5, and 13.1 A, respectively. These results suggest an overall parallel average orientation of nisin in the membrane, with respect to the membrane surface, with the N-terminus more deeply inserted than the C-terminus. These data were used to model the orientation of nisin in the membrane.

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