Peptide backbone chemistry and membrane channel function: Effects of a single amide-to-ester replacement on gramicidin channel structure and function
Membrane Transport Proteins
To examine the structural and functional importance of backbone amide groups in ion channels for subunit folding, hydrogen bonding, ion solvation, and ion permeation, we replaced the peptide bond between Val(1) and Gly(2) in gramicidin A by an ester bond. The substitution is at the junction between the two channel subunits, where it removes an intramolecular hydrogen bond between the NH of Gly(2) and the C==O of Val(7) and perturbs an intermolecular hydrogen bond between the C==O of Val(1) in one subunit and the NH of Ala(5) in the other subunit. The substitution thus perturbs not only subunit folding but also dimer assembly, in addition to any effects on ion permeation. This backbone modification has large effects on channel function: It alters channel stability, as monitored by the channel forming ability and channel lifetime, and ion permeability, as monitored by changes in single-channel conductance and cation permeability ratios. In fact, the homodimeric channels, with two ester-containing subunits, have lifetimes so short that it becomes impossible to characterize them in any detail. The peptide --> ester substitution, however, does not affect the basic subunit fold because heterodimeric channels can form between a subunit with an ester bond and a native subunit. These heterodimeric channels, with only a single ester bond, are more easily characterized; the lone ester reduces the single-channel conductance about 4-fold and the lifetime about 200-fold as compared to the native homodimeric channels. The altered channel function results from a perturbation/disruption of the hydrogen bond network that stabilizes the backbone, as well as the membrane-spanning dimer, and that forms the lining of the ion-conducting pore. Molecular dynamics simulations show the expected destabilization of the modified heterodimeric or homodimeric channels, but the changes in backbone structure and dynamics are remarkably small. The ester bond is somewhat unstable, which precluded further structural characterization. The lability also led to a hydrolysis product that terminates with an alcohol and lacks formyl-Val. Symmetric channels formed by the hydrolyzed product again have short lifetimes, but the channels are distinctly different from those formed by the ester gramicidin A. Furthermore, well-behaved asymmetric channels form between the hydrolysis product and reference subunits that have either an L- or a D-residue at the formyl-NH-terminus.