Energetics of gramicidin hybrid channel formation as a test for structural equivalence: Side-chain substitutions in the native sequence
To determine whether amino acid side-chain substitutions in linear gramicidins after the structure of membrane-spanning channels formed by the modified peptides, we have developed a quantitative measure of structural equivalence of the peptide backbone among gramicidin channels based on functional (single-channel) measurements. The experiments exploit the fact that gramicidin channels are symmetrical dimers, and that channels formed by different gramicidin analogues can be distinguished on the basis of their single-channel current amplitudes or durations. It is thereby possible to determine whether hybrid channels can form between chemically dissimilar peptides, i.e. whether the peptides can adapt to each other. Further, since the relative rates of channel formation as well as the relative concentrations of pure and hybrid channel types can be measured in the same membrane, these experiments provide a quantitative measure of the energetic cost of hybrid channel formation relative to the formation of the pure channels. For a wide variety of different side-chains, we find that substitutions as extreme as glycine to phenylalanine at position 1, at the join between the two monomers in a membrane-spanning dimer, incur no energetic cost for channel formation, which implies that channels formed by each of the modified peptides are structurally equivalent. In addition, the average durations of the hybrid channels (except those having tyrosine or hexafluorovaline at position 1) are intermediate to the average durations of the respective pure channel types, thus providing further evidence for structural equivalence among channels formed by sequence-substituted gramicidins.