Indexed on: 05 Nov '99Published on: 05 Nov '99Published in: Journal of Molecular Biology
We surveyed 299 high resolution, non-homologous protein crystal structures for alpha-helix lengths and capping preferences. We find that helices show a preference to have close to an integral number of turns. Helices can be usefully subdivided into either "favoured length" with 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 25, 28, 29 or 31 residues, or "disfavoured length" with 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 26, 27 or 30 residues. Favoured length helices have their N and C-caps on the same side of the helix so they can lie on the protein surface. There is no significant difference in amino acid preferences at the N terminus between favoured and disfavoured length helices. At the C terminus, favoured length helices prefer non-polar side-chains at C4 and polar amino acid residues at C2, while disfavoured length helices prefer non-polar amino acid residues at C2. There are strong periodic trends in the likelihood of terminating a helix with a Schellman or alphaL C-capping motif. These can be rationalised by the preference for a non-polar side-chain at C3 with these motifs, favouring placing C3 on the buried side of the helix. We suggest that algorithms aiming to predict helices or C-capping in proteins should include a weight for the helix length.