Journal article

Robust Driving Forces for Transmembrane Helix Packing

The packing structures of transmembrane helices are traditionally attributed to patterns in residues along the contact surface. In this view, besides keeping the helices confined in the membrane, the bilayer has only a minor effect on the helices structure. Here, we use two different approaches to show that the lipid environment has a crucial effect in determining the cross-angle distribution of packed helices. We analyzed structural data of a membrane proteins database. We show that the distribution of cross angles of helix pairs in this database is statistically indistinguishable from the cross-angle distribution of two noninteracting helices imbedded in the membrane. These results suggest that the cross angle is, to a large extent, determined by the tilt angle of the individual helices. We test this hypothesis using molecular simulations of a coarse-grained model that contains no specific residue interactions. These simulations reproduce the same cross-angle distribution as found in the database. As the tilt angle of a helix is dominated by hydrophobic mismatch between the protein and surrounding lipids, our results indicate that hydrophobic mismatch is the dominant factor guiding the transmembrane helix packing. Other short-range forces might then fine-tune the structure to its final configuration. © 2012 Biophysical Society.

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