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The flash-cooling of crystals in macromolecular crystallography has become commonplace. The procedure makes it possible to collect data from much smaller specimens than was the case in the past. Also, flash-cooled crystals are much less prone to radiation damage than their room-temperature counterparts, allowing data to be accumulated over extended periods of time. Notwithstanding the attractiveness of the technique, it does have potential disadvantages. First, better methods need to be developed to prevent damage to crystals on freezing. There is also a risk that structures determined at low temperature may suggest conclusions based on aspects of the structure that are not necessarily relevant at room temperature.
We review recent computational advances in the study of membrane proteins, focusing on those that have at least one transmembrane helix. Transmembrane protein regions are, in many respects, easier to investigate computationally than experimentally, due to the uniformity of their structure and interactions (e.g. consisting predominately of nearly parallel helices packed together) on one hand and presenting the challenges of solubility on the other. We present the progress made on identifying and classifying membrane proteins into families, predicting their structure from amino-acid sequence patterns (using many different methods), and analyzing their interactions and packing. The total result of this work allows us for the first time to begin to think about the membrane protein interactome, the set of all interactions between distinct transmembrane helices in the lipid bilayer.
Despite continuing advances in the development of macromolecules, including peptides, proteins, and oligonucleotides, for therapeutic purposes, the successful application of these hydrophilic molecules has so far been hampered by their inability to efficiently traverse the cellular plasma membrane. The discovery of a class of peptides (cell-penetrating peptides, CPPs) with the ability to mediate the non-invasive and efficient import of a whole host of cargoes, both in vitro and in vivo, has provided a new means by which the problem associated with cellular delivery can be circumvented. A complete understanding of the translocation mechanism(s) of CPPs has so far proven elusive. Initial studies indicated an ATP-independent, non-endocytotic mechanism, dependent on direct peptide–membrane interactions, making it an enticing challenge from a biophysical point of view. However, recent evidence cast doubt on many of the earlier results, and led to a re-evaluation of the translocation mechanism of CPPs. In this review a brief history of the field will be given, followed by an introduction to some of the better known and more widely used CPPs, including some of their current applications, and finally a discussion of the translocation mechanism(s) and the controversies surrounding it.