Mapping the energy surface of transmembrane helix-helix interactions
Transmembrane helices are no longer believed to be just hydrophobic segments that exist solely to anchor proteins to a lipid bilayer, but rather they appear to have the capacity to specify function and structure. Specific interactions take place between hydrophobic segments within the lipid bilayer whereby subtle mutations that normally would be considered innocuous can result in dramatic structural differences. That such specificity takes place within the lipid bilayer implies that it may be possible to identify the most favorable interaction surface of transmembrane a-helices based on computational methods alone, as shown in this study. Herein, an attempt is made to map the energy surface of several transmembrane helix-helix interactions for several homo-oligomerizing proteins, where experimental data regarding their structure exist (glycophorin A, phospholamban, Influenza virus A M2, Influenza virus C CM2, and HIV vpu). It is shown that due to symmetry constraints in homo-oligomers the computational problem can be simplified. The results obtained are mostly consistent with known structural data and may additionally provide a view of possible alternate and intermediate configurations.