Small-residue packing motifs modulate the structure and function of a minimal de novo membrane protein

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Alpha-helical integral membrane proteins contain conserved sequence motifs that are known to be important in helix packing. These motifs are a promising starting point for the construction of artificial proteins, but their potential has not yet been fully explored. Here, we study the impact of introducing a common natural helix packing motif to the transmembrane domain of a genetically-encoded and structurally dynamic de novo membrane protein. The resulting construct is an artificial four-helix bundle with lipophilic regions that are defined only by the amino acids L, G, S, A and W. This minimal proto-protein could be recombinantly expressed by diverse prokaryotic and eukaryotic hosts and was found to co-sediment with cellular membranes. The protein could be extracted and purified in surfactant micelles and was monodisperse and stable in vitro, with sufficient structural definition to support the rapid binding of a heme cofactor. The reduction in conformational diversity imposed by this design also enhances the nascent peroxidase activity of the protein-heme complex. Unexpectedly, strains of Escherichia coli expressing this artificial protein specifically accumulated zinc protoporphyrin IX, a rare cofactor that is not used by natural metalloenzymes. Our results demonstrate that simple sequence motifs can rigidify elementary membrane proteins, and that orthogonal artificial membrane proteins can influence the cofactor repertoire of a living cell. These findings have implications for rational protein design and synthetic biology.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15203 (2020)
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2020

Structured keywords

  • BrisSynBio
  • Bristol BioDesign Institute


  • protein design
  • membrane proteins
  • metalloenzyme
  • synthetic peroxidase


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  • HPC (High Performance Computing) Facility

    Sadaf R Alam (Manager), Steven A Chapman (Manager), Polly E Eccleston (Other), Simon H Atack (Other) & D A G Williams (Manager)

    Facility/equipment: Facility

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