Triple-helical peptides: An approach to collagen conformation, stability, and self-association


  • This article is dedicated to the memory of Elkan Blout, who was the Ph.D. advisor of B.B. at Harvard Medical School, with appreciation for his support, sage advice, and friendship over four decades. His examples of scientific rigor, enthusiasm, collegiality, and generosity have been guiding principles in my career.


Peptides have been an integral part of the collagen triple-helix structure story, and have continued to serve as useful models for biophysical studies and for establishing biologically important sequence-structure-function relationships. High resolution structures of triple-helical peptides have confirmed the basic Ramachandran triple-helix model and provided new insights into the hydration, hydrogen bonding, and sequence dependent helical parameters in collagen. The dependence of collagen triple-helix stability on the residues in its (Gly-X-Y)n repeating sequence has been investigated by measuring melting temperatures of host-guest peptides and an on-line collagen stability calculator is now available. Although the presence of Gly as every third residue is essential for an undistorted structure, interruptions in the repeating (Gly-X-Y)n amino acid sequence pattern are found in the triple-helical domains of all nonfibrillar collagens, and are likely to play a role in collagen binding and degradation. Peptide models indicate that small interruptions can be incorporated into a rod-like triple-helix with a highly localized effect, which perturbs hydrogen bonds and places the standard triple-helices on both ends out of register. In contrast to natural interruptions, missense mutations which replace one Gly in a triple-helix domain by a larger residue have pathological consequences, and studies on peptides containing such Gly substitutions clarify their effect on conformation, stability, and folding. Recent studies suggest peptides may also be useful in defining the basic principles of collagen self-association to the supramolecular structures found in tissues. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Biopolymers 89: 345–353, 2008.

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