How physical forces drive the process of helical membrane protein folding

EMBO Rep. 2022 Feb 3;23(3):e53025. doi: 10.15252/embr.202153025. Epub 2022 Feb 8.


Protein folding is a fundamental process of life with important implications throughout biology. Indeed, tens of thousands of mutations have been associated with diseases, and most of these mutations are believed to affect protein folding rather than function. Correct folding is also a key element of design. These factors have motivated decades of research on protein folding. Unfortunately, knowledge of membrane protein folding lags that of soluble proteins. This gap is partly caused by the greater technical challenges associated with membrane protein studies, but also because of additional complexities. While soluble proteins fold in a homogenous water environment, membrane proteins fold in a setting that ranges from bulk water to highly charged to apolar. Thus, the forces that drive folding vary in different regions of the protein, and this complexity needs to be incorporated into our understanding of the folding process. Here, we review our understanding of membrane protein folding biophysics. Despite the greater challenge, better model systems and new experimental techniques are starting to unravel the forces and pathways in membrane protein folding.

Keywords: co-translational folding; energetics; folding pathways; helix insertion; membrane protein topology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Membrane Proteins* / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins* / metabolism
  • Protein Folding*


  • Membrane Proteins