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Open Access Research article

Different conformations of nascent polypeptides during translocation across the ER membrane

Ismael Mingarro2, IngMarie Nilsson1, Paul Whitley3 and Gunnar von Heijne1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain

3 Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, UK

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BMC Cell Biology 2000, 1:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-1-3

Published: 19 December 2000

Abstract

Background

In eukaryotic cells, proteins are translocated across the ER membrane through a continuous ribosome-translocon channel. It is unclear to what extent proteins can fold already within the ribosome-translocon channel, and previous studies suggest that only a limited degree of folding (such as the formation of isolated α-helices) may be possible within the ribosome.

Results

We have previously shown that the conformation of nascent polypeptide chains in transit through the ribosome-translocon complex can be probed by measuring the number of residues required to span the distance between the ribosomal P-site and the lumenally disposed active site of the oligosaccharyl transferase enzyme (J. Biol. Chem 271: 6241-6244).Using this approach, we now show that model segments composed of residues with strong helix-forming properties in water (Ala, Leu) have a more compact conformation in the ribosome-translocon channel than model segments composed of residues with weak helix-forming potential (Val, Pro).

Conclusions

The main conclusions from the work reported here are (i) that the propensity to form an extended or more compact (possibly α-helical) conformation in the ribosome-translocon channel does not depend on whether or not the model segment has stop-transfer function, but rather seems to reflect the helical propensities of the amino acids as measured in an aqueous environment, and (ii) that stop-transfer sequences may adopt a helical structure and integrate into the ER membrane at different times relative to the time of glycan addition to nearby upstream glycosylation acceptor sites.