Unusual compactness of a polyproline type II structure.

Bojan Zagrovic, Jan Lipfert, Eric J. Sorin, Ian S. Millett, Wilfred F. van Gunsteren, Sebastian Doniach & Vijay S. Pande.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2005)

SUMMARY: This study probes the structural character of a small peptide using experiment and simulation. It highlights the differences between global and local structural information, suggesting a new model for PPII conformational character, which is thought to be dominant in the unfolded state of proteins.

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT: Polyproline type II (PPII) helix has emerged recently as the dominant paradigm for describing the conformation of unfolded polypeptides. However, most experimental observables used to characterize unfolded proteins typically provide only short-range, sequence-local structural information that is both time- and ensemble- averaged, giving limited detail about the long-range structure of the chain. Here, we report a study of a long-range property: the radius of gyration of an alanine-based peptide, Ace-(diaminobutyric acid)2-(Ala)7-(ornithine)2-NH2. This molecule has previously been studied as a model for the unfolded state of proteins under folding conditions and is believed to adopt a PPII fold based on short-range techniques such as NMR and CD. By using synchrotron radiation and small-angle x-ray scattering, we have determined the radius of gyration of this peptide to be 7.4(+/-0.5), which is significantly less than the value expected from an ideal PPII helix in solution (13.1). To further study this contradiction, we have used molecular dynamics simulations using six variants of the AMBER force field and the GROMOS 53A6 force field. However, in all cases, the simulated ensembles underestimate the PPII content while overestimating the experimental radius of gyration. The conformational model that we propose, based on our small angle x-ray scattering results and what is known about this molecule from before, is that of a very flexible, fluctuating structure that on the level of individual residues explores a wide basin around the ideal PPII geometry but is never, or only rarely, in the ideal extended PPII helical conformation.