Maintaining and breaking symmetry in homomeric coiled-coil assemblies

Guto Rhys*, Chris W Wood, Eric J M Lang, Adrian Mulholland, R. Leo Brady, Andrew Thomson, Dek Woolfson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
276 Downloads (Pure)


In coiled-coil (CC) protein structures α-helices wrap around one another to form rope-like assemblies. Most natural and designed CCs have two–four helices and cyclic (Cn) or dihedral (Dn) symmetry. Increasingly, CCs with five or more helices are being reported. A subset of these higher-order CCs is of interest as they have accessible central channels that can be functionalised; they are α-helical barrels. These extended cavities are surprising given the drive to maximise buried hydrophobic surfaces during protein folding and assembly in water. Here, we show that α-helical barrels can be maintained by the strategic placement of β-branched aliphatic residues lining the lumen. Otherwise, the structures collapse or adjust to give more-complex multi-helix assemblies without Cn or Dn symmetry. Nonetheless, the structural hallmark of CCs—namely, knobs-into-holes packing of side chains between helices—is maintained leading to classes of CCs hitherto unobserved in nature or accessed by design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4132
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2018

Structured keywords

  • BrisSynBio
  • Bristol BioDesign Institute
  • BCS and TECS CDTs


  • synthetic biology


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