Template-Assembled Synthetic Proteins Designed To Adopt a Globular, Four-Helix Bundle Conformation Form Ionic Channels in Lipid Bilayers

Anne Grove, University of California, San Diego
Mauricio Montal, University of California, San Diego
Manfred Mutter, Université de Lausanne (UNIL)
Jean E. Rivier, Salk Institute for Biological Studies


Template-assembled synthetic proteins (TASPs) designed to adopt globular, four-helix bundle structures form ion channels in lipid bilayers. The rationale behind this work is that a bundle of amphiphilic α-helices may constitute a functional pore-forming motif in a lipid environment. TASPs designated T4(4α11), T4(4α15), and T4(4α18) contain four identical, amphiphilic, helical modules of 11, 15, or 18 residues, respectively; secondary structure modules are attached to the lysine ϵ-amino groups of a cyclic template, which directs the intramolecular folding. T4(4α15) and T4(4α18) form cation selective channels with single channel conductances in 500 mM NaCl of 10 and 50 pS for T4(4α15) and 9 and 25 pS for T4(4α18). In contrast, T4(4α11) does not produce discrete conductance events. Notably, channel activity is observed only for molecules that display well-defined α-helical structure in solution; K(α15), which contains a single peptide module attached to the ϵ-amino group of Ac-Lys-NH2, does not elicit single channels and displays low α-helical content. By contrast, K(α18) displays spectral features associated with α-helical structure and forms channels with primary conductances of 3 and 9 pS. The occurrence of multiple conductances suggests that molecules aggregate and form heterogeneous conductive oligomers. The minimum length of helical modules required to span a lipid bilayer is established by investigating the channel activity of T4(4α15) in bilayers of increasing width. Taken together, results suggest that the relative orientation of amphiphilic segments depends on the hydrophobicity of surrounding media; accordingly, TASP molecules may form ionic channels through a reorientation of template-assembled helical modules to expose charged residues to a central hydrophilic pore. © 1993, American Chemical Society. All rights reserved.