Nature 450, 1026-1030 (13 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06387; Received 9 August 2007; Accepted 17 October 2007

Molecular code for transmembrane-helix recognition by the Sec61 translocon

Tara Hessa1,4, Nadja M. Meindl-Beinker1,4, Andreas Bernsel2,4, Hyun Kim1, Yoko Sato1, Mirjam Lerch-Bader1, IngMarie Nilsson1, Stephen H. White3 & Gunnar von Heijne1,2

  1. Center for Biomembrane Research, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
  2. Stockholm Bioinformatics Center, AlbaNova, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
  3. Department of Physiology and Biophysics and the Center for Biomembrane Systems, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California 92697-4560, USA
  4. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Gunnar von Heijne1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to G.v.H. (Email:


Transmembrane alpha-helices in integral membrane proteins are recognized co-translationally and inserted into the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum by the Sec61 translocon. A full quantitative description of this phenomenon, linking amino acid sequence to membrane insertion efficiency, is still lacking. Here, using in vitro translation of a model protein in the presence of dog pancreas rough microsomes to analyse a large number of systematically designed hydrophobic segments, we present a quantitative analysis of the position-dependent contribution of all 20 amino acids to membrane insertion efficiency, as well as of the effects of transmembrane segment length and flanking amino acids. The emerging picture of translocon-mediated transmembrane helix assembly is simple, with the critical sequence characteristics mirroring the physical properties of the lipid bilayer.


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