The role of protonation and metal chelation preferences in defining the properties of mercury-binding coiled coils

J Mol Biol. 1998 Jul 31;280(5):897-912. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.1998.1891.


To define the delicate interplay between metal chelation, protein folding and function in metalloproteins, a family of de novo-designed peptides was synthesized that self-assemble in aqueous solution to form two and three-stranded alpha-helical coiled coils. Each peptide contains a single Cys residue at an a or d position of the heptad repeat. Peptide association thus produces a Cys-rich coordination environment that has been used to bind Hg(II) ions. These peptides display a pH-dependent association, with trimers observed above the pKa of Glu side-chains and dimers below this value. Finite-difference Poisson-Boltzmann calculations suggest that the dimeric state decreases the unfavorable electrostatic interactions between positively charged Lys side-chains (relative to the trimer). The Cys-containing peptides bind Hg(II) in a position-dependent fashion. Cys at a positions form three-coordinate Hg complexes at high pH where the trimeric aggregation state predominates, and two-coordinate complexes at lower pH. A d position Cys, however, is only able to generate the two-coordinate complex, illustrating the difference in coordination geometry between the two positions in the coiled coil. The binding of Hg(II) was also shown to substantially increase the stability of the helical aggregates.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Chelating Agents / metabolism
  • Circular Dichroism
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Mercury / chemistry*
  • Mercury / metabolism
  • Metalloproteins / chemistry*
  • Metalloproteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Engineering
  • Protein Folding
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Ultracentrifugation


  • Chelating Agents
  • Metalloproteins
  • Mercury