The effects of amino acid substitutions upon the behavior of poly(Leu)-rich α-helices inserted into model membrane vesicles were investigated. One or two consecutive Leu residues in the hydrophobic core of the helix were substituted with A, F, G, S, D, K, H, P, GG, SS, PG, PP, KK, or DD residues. A Trp placed at the center of the sequence allowed assessment of peptide behavior via fluorescence emission λmax and dual quenching analysis of Trp depth [Caputo, G. A., and London, E. (2003) Biochemistry 42, 3265-3274]. In vesicles composed of dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC), all of the peptides with single substitutions adopted a transmembrane (TM) state. Experiments were also performed in thicker bilayers composed of dierucoylphosphatidylcholine (DEuPC). In DEuPC vesicles TM states were destabilized by mismatch between helix length and bilayer thickness. Nevertheless, in DEuPC vesicles TM states were still prevalent for peptides with single substitutions, although less so for peptides with P, K, H, or D substitutions. In contrast to single substitutions, certain consecutive double substitutions strongly interfered with formation of TM states. In both DOPC and DEuPC vesicles DD and KK substitutions abolished the normal TM state, but GG and SS substitutions had little effect. In even wider bilayers, a SS substitution reduced the formation of a TM state. A peptide with a PP substitution maintained the TM state in DOPC vesicles, but in DEuPC vesicles the level of formation of the TM state was significantly reduced. Upon disruption of normal TM insertion peptides moved close to the bilayer surface, with the exception of the KK-substituted peptide in DOPC vesicles, which formed a truncated TM segment. These studies begin to provide a detailed relationship between sequence and the stability of TM insertion and show that the influence of insertion-destabilizing residues upon hydrophobic helices can be strongly modulated by properties such as mismatch. For certain helix-forming hydrophobic sequences, sensitivity to lipid structure may be sufficient to induce large conformational changes in vivo.
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