Folding of Aquaporin 1: Multiple evidence that helix 3 can shift out of the membrane core

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Abstract

The folding of most integral membrane proteins follows a two-step process: initially, individual transmembrane helices are inserted into the membrane by the Sec translocon. Thereafter, these helices fold to shape the final conformation of the protein. However, for some proteins, including Aquaporin 1 (AQP1), the folding appears to follow a more complicated path. AQP1 has been reported to first insert as a four-helical intermediate, where helix 2 and 4 are not inserted into the membrane. In a second step, this intermediate is folded into a six-helical topology. During this process, the orientation of the third helix is inverted. Here, we propose a mechanism for how this reorientation could be initiated: first, helix 3 slides out from the membrane core resulting in that the preceding loop enters the membrane. The final conformation could then be formed as helix 2, 3, and 4 are inserted into the membrane and the reentrant regions come together. We find support for the first step in this process by showing that the loop preceding helix 3 can insert into the membrane. Further, hydrophobicity curves, experimentally measured insertion efficiencies and MD-simulations suggest that the barrier between these two hydrophobic regions is relatively low, supporting the idea that helix 3 can slide out of the membrane core, initiating the rearrangement process.

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