Structure determination of α-helical membrane proteins by solution-state NMR: emphasis on retinal proteins

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 May;1837(5):578-88. doi: 10.1016/j.bbabio.2013.06.009. Epub 2013 Jul 2.


The biochemical processes of living cells involve a numerous series of reactions that work with exceptional specificity and efficiency. The tight control of this intricate reaction network stems from the architecture of the proteins that drive the chemical reactions and mediate protein-protein interactions. Indeed, the structure of these proteins will determine both their function and interaction partners. A detailed understanding of the proximity and orientation of pivotal functional groups can reveal the molecular mechanistic basis for the activity of a protein. Together with X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, NMR spectroscopy plays an important role in solving three-dimensional structures of proteins at atomic resolution. In the challenging field of membrane proteins, retinal-binding proteins are often employed as model systems and prototypes to develop biophysical techniques for the study of structural and functional mechanistic aspects. The recent determination of two 3D structures of seven-helical trans-membrane retinal proteins by solution-state NMR spectroscopy highlights the potential of solution NMR techniques in contributing to our understanding of membrane proteins. This review summarizes the multiple strategies available for expression of isotopically labeled membrane proteins. Different environments for mimicking lipid bilayers will be presented, along with the most important NMR methods and labeling schemes used to generate high-quality NMR spectra. The article concludes with an overview of types of conformational restraints used for generation of high-resolution structures of membrane proteins. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Retinal Proteins - You can teach an old dog new tricks.

Keywords: Expression systems; Isotope labeling; Membrane proteins; Protein structure determination; Solution-state NMR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Halorhodopsins / chemistry*
  • Halorhodopsins / genetics
  • Halorhodopsins / metabolism
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Pichia / genetics
  • Pichia / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Retinaldehyde / chemistry*
  • Retinaldehyde / metabolism
  • Rhodopsin / chemistry*
  • Rhodopsin / genetics
  • Rhodopsin / metabolism
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • Sensory Rhodopsins / chemistry*
  • Sensory Rhodopsins / genetics
  • Sensory Rhodopsins / metabolism


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Halorhodopsins
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • Sensory Rhodopsins
  • proteorhodopsin
  • sensory rhodopsin II protein, archaeal
  • Rhodopsin
  • Retinaldehyde