The single alpha helix (SAH) is a recurring motif in biology. The consensus sequence has a di-block architecture that includes repeats of four consecutive glutamate residues followed by four consecutive lysine residues. Measurements show that the overall helicity of sequences with consensus E4K4 repeats is insensitive to a wide range of pH values. Here, we use the recently introduced q-canonical ensemble, which allows us to decouple measurements of charge state and conformation, to explain the observed insensitivity of SAH helicity to pH. We couple the outputs from separate measurements of charge and conformation with atomistic simulations to derive residue-specific quantifications of preferences for being in an alpha helix and for the ionizable residues to be charged vs. uncharged. We find a clear preference for accommodating uncharged Glu residues within internal positions of SAH-forming sequences. The stabilities of alpha helical conformations increase with the number of E4K4 repeats and so do the numbers of accessible charge states that are compatible with forming conformations of high helical content. There is conformational buffering whereby charge state heterogeneity buffers against large-scale conformational changes thus making the overall helicity insensitive to large changes in pH. Further, the results clearly argue against a single, rod-like alpha helical conformation being the only or even dominant conformation in the ensembles of so-called SAH sequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere202200746
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 3 2023


  • Charge Regulation
  • Charge State Heterogeneity
  • Conformational Buffering
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
  • Single alpha helices


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