Stable proline box motif at the N-terminal end of α-helices


  • A.R. Viguera,

    1. EMBL, Meyerhofstrasse 1, Heidelberg 69117, Germany
    Current affiliation:
    1. Dpto. Bioquímica y Biología Molecular, Unidad de Biofísica, U.P.V., Bilbao, Spain
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  • L. Serrano

    Corresponding author
    1. EMBL, Meyerhofstrasse 1, Heidelberg 69117, Germany
    • EMBL Structural Biology Program, Meyerhofstrasse 1, Heidelberg 69117, Germany
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We describe a novel N-terminal α-helix local motif that involves three hydrophobic residues and a Pro residue (Pro-box motif). Database analysis shows that when Pro is the N-cap of an α-helix the distribution of amino acids in adjacent positions changes dramatically with respect to the average distribution in an α-helix, but not when Pro is at position N1. N-cap Pro residues are usually associated to Ile and Leu, at position N', Val at position N3 and a hydrophobic residue (h) at position N4. The side chain of the N-cap Pro packs against Val, while the hydrophobic residues at positions N' and N4 make favorable interactions. To analyze the role of this putative motif (sequence fingerprint hPXXhh), we have synthesized a series of peptides and analyzed them by circular dichroism (CD) and NMR. We find that this motif is formed in peptides, and that the accompanying hydrophobic interactions contribute up to 1.2 kcal/mol to helix stability. The fact that some of the residues in this fingerprint are not good N-cap and helix formers results in a small overall stabilization of the α-helix with respect to other peptides having Gly as the N-cap and Ala at N3 and N4. This suggests that the Pro-box motif will not specially contribute to protein stability but to the specificity of its fold. In fact, 80% of the sequences that contain the fingerprint sequence in the protein database are adopting the described structural motif, and in none of them is the helix extended to place Pro at the more favorable N1 position.