Experimental and Computational Evaluation of Forces Directing the Association of Transmembrane Helices

J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Aug 19;131(32):11341-3. doi: 10.1021/ja904625b.


The forces that define the interactions of transmembrane helices have been evaluated using a model membrane-soluble peptide (MS1), whose packing is modeled on the two-stranded coiled-coil from GCN4. The thermodynamic stability of water-soluble coiled-coils depends on the side chain at the buried "a" position of the repeat, favoring large hydrophobic residues over small side chains. Here we show that just the opposite is true for the membrane-soluble peptide. Analytical ultracentrifugation and equilibrium disulfide interchange show that the stability of MS1 is greatest when Gly is at each "a" position of the heptad repeat (MS1-Gly), followed by Ala > Val > Ile. Moreover, MS1-Gly has a strong tendency to form antiparallel dimers, MS1-Ala forms a mixture of parallel and antiparallel dimers, while MS1-Val and MS1-Ile have a preference to form parallel dimers. Calculations based on exhaustive conformational searching and rotamer optimization were in excellent agreement with experiments, in terms of the overall stability of the structures and the preference for parallel vs antiparallel packing. The MS1-Gly helices are able to achieve more favorable and uniform packing in an antiparallel dimer, while MS1-Val and MS1-Ile have more favorable van der Waals interactions in a parallel dimer. Finally, the electrostatic component arising from the partial charges of the backbones become significant in the antiparallel MS1-Gly and MS1-Ala conformations, due to close packing of the helices. Thus, van der Waals interactions and electrostatic interactions contribute to the stability and orientational preferences of the dimers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Computer Simulation
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Protein Multimerization*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Solubility
  • Thermodynamics
  • Water / chemistry


  • Disulfides
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Peptides
  • Water