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Helix-packing motifs in membrane proteins

National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
  • Biological Sciences
  • Biology
  • Design


The fold of a helical membrane protein is largely determined by interactions between membrane-imbedded helices. To elucidate recurring helix–helix interaction motifs, we dissected the crystallographic structures of membrane proteins into a library of interacting helical pairs. The pairs were clustered according to their three-dimensional similarity (rmsd ≤1.5 Å), allowing 90% of the library to be assigned to clusters consisting of at least five members. Surprisingly, three quarters of the helical pairs belong to one of five tightly clustered motifs whose structural features can be understood in terms of simple principles of helix–helix packing. Thus, the universe of common transmembrane helix-pairing motifs is relatively simple. The largest cluster, which comprises 29% of the library members, consists of an antiparallel motif with left-handed packing angles, and it is frequently stabilized by packing of small side chains occurring every seven residues in the sequence. Right-handed parallel and antiparallel structures show a similar tendency to segregate small residues to the helix–helix interface but spaced at four-residue intervals. Position-specific sequence propensities were derived for the most populated motifs. These structural and sequential motifs should be quite useful for the design and structural prediction of membrane proteins.

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