Synergistic interactions between aqueous and membrane domains of a designed protein determine its fold and stability

Lidia Cristian, Vikas Nanda, James D. Lear, William F. DeGrado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Membrane-spanning proteins contain both aqueous and membrane-spanning regions, both of which contribute to folding and stability. To explore the interplay between these two domains we have designed and studied the assembly of coiled-coil peptides that span from the membrane into the aqueous phase. The membrane-spanning segment is based on MS1, a transmembrane coiled coil that contains a single Asn at a buried a position of a central heptad in its sequence. This Asn has been shown to drive assembly of the monomeric peptide in a membrane environment to a mixture of dimers and trimers. The coiled coil has now been extended into the aqueous phase by addition of water-soluble helical extensions. Although too short to fold in isolation, these helical extensions were expected to interact synergistically with the transmembrane domain and modulate its stability as well as its conformational specificity for forming dimers versus trimers. One design contains Asn at a position of the aqueous helical extension, which was expected to specify a dimeric state; a second peptide, which contains Val at this position, was expected to form trimers. The thermodynamics of assembly of the hybrid peptides were studied in micelles by sedimentation equilibrium ultracentrifugation. The aqueous helical extensions indeed conferred additional stability and conformational specificity to MS1 in the expected manner. These studies highlight the delicate interplay between membrane-spanning and water-soluble regions of proteins, and demonstrate how these different environments define the thermodynamics of a given specific interaction. In this case, an Asn in the transmembrane domain provided a strong driving force for folding but failed to specify a unique oligomerization state, while an Asn in the water-soluble domain was able to define specificity for a specific aggregation state as well as modulate stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1225-1233
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of molecular biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 20 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


  • Coiled-coils
  • Helical bundles
  • Membrane proteins
  • Polar interactions
  • Thiol-disulfide exchange

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