Indexed on: 23 Sep '09Published on: 23 Sep '09Published in: Acta crystallographica. Section D, Biological crystallography
Helix-helix interactions are important for the structure, stability and function of alpha-helical proteins. Helices that either cross in the middle or show extensive contacts between each other, such as coiled coils, have been investigated in previous studies. Interactions between two helices can also occur only at the terminal regions or between the terminal region of one helix and the middle region of another helix. Examples of such helix pairs are found in aquaporin, H(+)/Cl(-) transporter and Bcl-2 proteins. The frequency of the occurrence of such ;end-to-end' (EE) and ;end-to-middle' (EM) helix pairs in protein structures is not known. Questions regarding the residue preferences in the interface and the mode of interhelical interactions in such helix pairs also remain unanswered. In this study, high-resolution structures of all-alpha proteins from the PDB have been systematically analyzed and the helix pairs that interact only in EE or EM fashion have been extracted. EE and EM helix pairs have been categorized into five classes (N-N, N-C, C-C, N-MID and C-MID) depending on the region of interaction. Nearly 13% of 5725 helix pairs belonged to one of the five classes. Analysis of single-residue propensities indicated that hydrophobic and polar residues prefer to occur in the C-terminal and N-terminal regions, respectively. Hydrophobic C-terminal interacting residues and polar N-terminal interacting residues are also highly conserved. A strong correlation exists between some of the residue properties (surface area/volume and length of side chains) and their preferences for occurring in the interface of EE and EM helix pairs. In contrast to interacting non-EE/EM helix pairs, helices in EE and EM pairs are farther apart. In these helix pairs, residues with large surface area/volume and longer side chains are preferred in the interfacial region.