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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

pi-Turns: types, systematics and the context of their occurrence in protein structures

Bhaskar Dasgupta1 and Pinak Chakrabarti12*

Author affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Centre, Bose Institute, Calcutta, India

2 Department of Biochemistry, Bose Institute, Calcutta, India

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Citation and License

BMC Structural Biology 2008, 8:39  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-8-39

Published: 22 September 2008



For a proper understanding of protein structure and folding it is important to know if a polypeptide segment adopts a conformation inherent in the sequence or it depends on the context of its flanking secondary structures. Turns of various lengths have been studied and characterized starting from three-residue γ-turn to six-residue π-turn. The Schellman motif occurring at the C-terminal end of α-helices is a classical example of hydrogen bonded π-turn involving residues at (i) and (i+5) positions. Hydrogen bonded and non-hydrogen bonded β- and α-turns have been identified previously; likewise, a systematic characterization of π-turns would provide valuable insight into turn structures.


An analysis of protein structures indicates that at least 20% of π-turns occur independent of the Schellman motif. The two categories of π-turns, designated as π-HB and SCH, have been further classified on the basis of backbone conformation and both have AAAa as the major class. They differ in the residue usage at position (i+1), the former having a large preference for Pro that is absent in the latter. As in the case of shorter length β- and α-turns, π-turns have also been identified not only on the basis of the existence of hydrogen bond, but also using the distance between terminal Cα-atoms, and this resulted in a comparable number of non-hydrogen-bonded π-turns (π-NHB). The presence of shorter β- and α-turns within all categories of π-turns, the subtle variations in backbone torsion angles along the turn residues, the location of the turns in the context of tertiary structures have been studied.


π-turns have been characterized, first using hydrogen bond and the distance between Cα atoms of the terminal residues, and then using backbone torsion angles. While the Schellman motif has a structural role in helix termination, many of the π-HB turns, being located on surface cavities, have functional role and there is also sequence conservation.