• protein structure;
  • secondary structure;
  • beta sheets;
  • protein folding;
  • hierarchical model


Protein β-sheets often involve nonlocal interactions between parts of the polypeptide chain that are separated by hundreds of residues, raising the question of how these nonlocal contacts form. A recent study of the smallest β-sheets found that their formation was not driven by signals hidden in the primary sequence. Instead, the strands in these sheets were either local in sequence, or, when separated by large sequential distances, the intervening residues were found to fold into compact modules that anchored distant parts of the chain in close spatial proximity. Here, we examine larger β-sheets to investigate the extensibility of this principle. From an analysis of the β-sheets in a nonredundant protein dataset, we find that a highly ordered hierarchical relationship exists in the intervening structure between nonlocal β-strands. This observation is almost universal: virtually all β-sheets, no matter their complexity, appear to adopt an antiparallel model to manage the nonlocal aspects of their assembly, one where the chain, having left the vicinity of an unfinished β-sheet, retraces its steps via the same route to complete the initial sheet. Exceptions typically involve unstructured regions at chain termini. Moreover, an analysis of the residues involved in nonlocal crossstrand interactions did not produce any evidence of a signal hidden in the sequence that might direct long-range interactions. These results build on those reported for the smallest sheets, suggesting that sheet formation is either local in sequence or local in space following prior folding events that anchor disparate parts of the chain in close proximity. Proteins 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.