Orientation and conformation of lipids in crystals of transmembrane proteins

Derek Marsh, Tibor Páli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Orientational order parameters and individual dihedral torsion angles are evaluated for phospholipid and glycolipid molecules that are resolved in X-ray structures of integral transmembrane proteins in crystals. The order parameters of the lipid chains and glycerol backbones in protein crystals are characterised by a much wider distribution of orientational order than is found in fluid lipid bilayers and reconstituted lipid-protein membranes. This indicates that the lipids that are resolved in crystals of membrane proteins are mostly not representative of the entire lipid-protein interface. Much of the chain configurational disorder of the membrane-bound lipids in crystals arises from C-C bonds in energetically disallowed skew conformations. This suggests configurational heterogeneity of the lipids at a single binding site: eclipsed conformations occur also in the glycerol backbone torsion angles and the C-C torsion angles of the lipid head groups. Conformations of the lipid glycerol backbone in protein crystals are not restricted to the gauche C1-C2 rotamers found invariably in phospholipid bilayer crystals. Lipid head-group conformations in the protein crystals also do not conform solely to the bent-down conformation, with gauche-gauche configuration of the phosphodiester, that is characteristic of phospholipid bilayer membranes. Stereochemical violations in the protein-bound lipids are evidenced by ester carboxyl groups in non-planar configurations, and even in the cis configuration. Some lipids have the incorrect enantiomeric configuration of the glycerol backbone, and many of the branched methyl groups in the phytanyl chains associated with bacteriorhodopsin have the incorrect S configuration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-146
Number of pages28
JournalEuropean Biophysics Journal
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2013


  • Enantiomers
  • Headgroup conformation
  • Integral proteins
  • Lipid-protein interactions
  • Order parameters
  • Torsion angles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics

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