Alamethicin and related peptaibols--model ion channels.
Peptaibols are considered as models of those ion channels which consist of a bundle of transbilayer helices surrounding a central pore. X-Ray diffraction and NMR studies have yielded high resolution structures for several peptaibols. In conjunction with other spectroscopic investigations and molecular dynamics simulations, these studies suggest that peptaibols form proline-kinked alpha-helices, and that there may be "hinge-bending" movement of the helix in the region of the central proline residue. The amphipathicity of peptaibol helices is analyzed in relation to their channel-forming properties. Studies of the interactions of peptaibols with lipid bilayers suggest that they are helical when in a membrane-like environment, and that the helix orientation relative to the bilayer is sensitive to the peptaibol:lipid ratio, and to the degree of hydration of the bilayer. Electrical studies reveal that many peptaibols form multiple-conductance level channels in a voltage-dependent fashion. Analysis of conductance levels provides support for the "barrel stave" model of channel formation, whereby different conductance levels correspond to different numbers of monomers in a helix bundle. Alternative models for voltage-activation are discussed, and the roles of molecular dipoles and of hinge-bending in this process are considered. Two molecular models for an N = 6 bundle of alamethicin helices are presented and their electrostatic properties analyzed. The relevance of studies of peptaibols to channel and transport proteins in general is considered.