Research Articles

Helix signals in proteins

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Science  17 Jun 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4859, pp. 1632-1641
DOI: 10.1126/science.2837824


The alpha helix, first proposed by Pauling and co-workers, is a hallmark of protein structure, and much effort has been directed toward understanding which sequences can form helices. The helix hypothesis, introduced here, provides a tentative answer to this question. The hypothesis states that a necessary condition for helix formation is the presence of residues flanking the helix termini whose side chains can form hydrogen bonds with the initial four-helix greater than N-H groups and final four-helix greater than C-O groups; these eight groups would otherwise lack intrahelical partners. This simple hypothesis implies the existence of a stereochemical code in which certain sequences have the hydrogen-bonding capacity to function as helix boundaries and thereby enable the helix to form autonomously. The three-dimensional structure of a protein is a consequence of the genetic code, but the rules relating sequence to structure are still unknown. The ensuing analysis supports the idea that a stereochemical code for the alpha helix resides in its boundary residues.