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Structure, Function, Self-Assembly and Origin of Simple Membrane ProteinsIntegral membrane proteins perform such essential cellular functions as transport of ions, nutrients and waste products across cell walls, transduction of environmental signals, regulation of cell fusion, recognition of other cells, energy capture and its conversion into high-energy compounds. In fact, 30-40% of genes in modem organisms codes for membrane proteins. Although contemporary membrane proteins or their functional assemblies can be quite complex, their transmembrane fragments are usually remarkably simple. The most common structural motif for these fragments is a bundle of alpha-helices, but occasionally it could be a beta-barrel. In a series of molecular dynamics computer simulations we investigated self-organizing properties of simple membrane proteins based on these structural motifs. Specifically, we studied folding and insertion into membranes of short, nonpolar or amphiphatic peptides. We also investigated glycophorin A, a peptide that forms sequence-specific dimers, and a transmembrane aggregate of four identical alpha-helices that forms an efficient and selective voltage-gated proton channel was investigated. Many peptides are attracted to water-membrane interfaces. Once at the interface, nonpolar peptides spontaneously fold to a-helices. Whenever the sequence permits, peptides that contain both polar and nonpolar amino also adopt helical structures, in which polar and nonpolar amino acid side chains are immersed in water and membrane, respectively. Specific identity of side chains is less important. Helical peptides at the interface could insert into the membrane and adopt a transmembrane conformation. However, insertion of a single helix is unfavorable because polar groups in the peptide become completely dehydrated upon insertion. The unfavorable free energy of insertion can be regained by spontaneous association of peptides in the membrane. The first step in this process is the formation of dimers, although the most common are aggregates of 4-7 helices. The helices could arrange themselves such that they formed pores capable of transporting ions and small molecules across membranes. Stability of transmembrane aggregates of simple proteins is often only marginal and, therefore, it can be regulated by environmental signals or small sequence modifications in the region of interhelical interactions. A key step in the earliest evolution of membrane proteins was the emergence of selectivity for specific substrates. Many channels could become selective if one or only a few properly chosen amino acids are properly placed along the channel, acting as filters or gates. This is a convenient evolutionary solution because it does not require imposing conditions on the whole sequence.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Pohorille, Andrew (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
August 25, 2003
Subject Category
Life Sciences (General)
Meeting Information
Centre Europeen de Calcul Atomique et Moleculaire Meeting(Madison, WI)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 344-53-92
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.