Structural determinants of coiled coil mechanics†
The natural abundance of coiled coil (CC) motifs in the cytoskeleton and the extracellular matrix suggests that CCs play a crucial role in the bidirectional mechanobiochemical signaling between cells and the matrix. Their functional importance and structural simplicity has allowed the development of numerous applications, such as protein-origami structures, drug delivery systems and biomaterials. With the goal of establishing CCs as nanomechanical building blocks, we investigated the importance of helix propensity and hydrophobic core packing on the mechanical stability of 4-heptad CC heterodimers. Using single-molecule force spectroscopy, we show that both parameters determine the force-induced dissociation in shear loading geometry; however, with different effects on the energy landscape. Decreasing the helix propensity lowers the transition barrier height, leading to a concomitant decrease in the distance to the transition state. In contrast, a less tightly packed hydrophobic core increases the distance to the transition state. We propose that this originates from a larger side chain dynamics, possible water intrusion at the interface as well as differences in solvation of the hydrophobic amino acids at the transition state. In conclusion, the different contributions of helix propensity and hydrophobic core packing need to be considered when tuning the mechanical properties of CCs for applications.