Empirical lipid propensities of amino acid residues in multispan alpha helical membrane proteins

Proteins. 2005 May 15;59(3):496-509. doi: 10.1002/prot.20456.


Characterizing the interactions between amino acid residues and lipid molecules is important for understanding the assembly of transmembrane helices and for studying membrane protein folding. In this study we develop TMLIP (TransMembrane helix-LIPid), an empirically derived propensity of individual residue types to face lipid membrane based on statistical analysis of high-resolution structures of membrane proteins. Lipid accessibilities of amino acid residues within the transmembrane (TM) region of 29 structures of helical membrane proteins are studied with a spherical probe of radius of 1.9 A. Our results show that there are characteristic preferences for residues to face the headgroup region and the hydrocarbon core region of lipid membrane. Amino acid residues Lys, Arg, Trp, Phe, and Leu are often found exposed at the headgroup regions of the membrane, where they have high propensity to face phospholipid headgroups and glycerol backbones. In the hydrocarbon core region, the strongest preference for interacting with lipids is observed for Ile, Leu, Phe and Val. Small and polar amino acid residues are usually buried inside helical bundles and are strongly lipophobic. There is a strong correlation between various hydrophobicity scales and the propensity of a given residue to face the lipids in the hydrocarbon region of the bilayer. Our data suggest a possibly significant contribution of the lipophobic effect to the folding of membrane proteins. This study shows that membrane proteins have exceedingly apolar exteriors rather than highly polar interiors. Prediction of lipid-facing surfaces of boundary helices using TMLIP1 results in a 54% accuracy, which is significantly better than random (25% accuracy). We also compare performance of TMLIP with another lipid propensity scale, kPROT, and with several hydrophobicity scales using hydrophobic moment analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids*
  • Binding Sites
  • Membrane Lipids*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Structure, Secondary*
  • Thermodynamics


  • Amino Acids
  • Membrane Lipids