High-resolution crystal structures of protein helices reconciled with three-centered hydrogen bonds and multipole electrostatics

Daniel J. Kuster, Chengyu Liu, Zheng Fang, Jay W. Ponder, Garland R. Marshall

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20 Scopus citations


Theoretical and experimental evidence for non-linear hydrogen bonds in protein helices is ubiquitous. In particular, amide three-centered hydrogen bonds are common features of helices in high-resolution crystal structures of proteins. These high-resolution structures (1.0 to 1.5 Å nominal crystallographic resolution) position backbone atoms without significant bias from modeling constraints and identify φ = -62°, ψ = -43 as the consensus backbone torsional angles of protein helices. These torsional angles preserve the atomic positions of α-β carbons of the classic Pauling α-helix while allowing the amide carbonyls to form bifurcated hydrogen bonds as first suggested by Némethy et al. in 1967. Molecular dynamics simulations of a capped 12-residue oligoalanine in water with AMOEBA (Atomic Multipole Optimized Energetics for Biomolecular Applications), a second-generation force field that includes multipole electrostatics and polarizability, reproduces the experimentally observed high-resolution helical conformation and correctly reorients the amide-bond carbonyls into bifurcated hydrogen bonds. This simple modification of backbone torsional angles reconciles experimental and theoretical views to provide a unified view of amide three-centered hydrogen bonds as crucial components of protein helices. The reason why they have been overlooked by structural biologists depends on the small crankshaft-like changes in orientation of the amide bond that allows maintenance of the overall helical parameters (helix pitch (p) and residues per turn (n)). The Pauling 3.613 α-helix fits the high-resolution experimental data with the minor exception of the amide-carbonyl electron density, but the previously associated backbone torsional angles (φ, ψ) needed slight modification to be reconciled with three-atom centered H-bonds and multipole electrostatics. Thus, a new standard helix, the 3.613/10-, Némethy- or N-helix, is proposed. Due to the use of constraints from monopole force fields and assumed secondary structures used in low-resolution refinement of electron density of proteins, such structures in the PDB often show linear hydrogen bonding.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0123146
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 20 2015


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