The coiled coil is a ubiquitous motif that guides many different protein-protein interactions. The accepted hallmark of coiled coils is a seven-residue (heptad) sequence repeat. The positions of this repeat are labelled a-b-c-d-e-f-g, with residues at a and d tending to be hydrophobic. Such sequences form amphipathic α-helices, which assemble into helical bundles via knobs-into-holes interdigitation of residues from neighbouring helices. We wrote an algorithm, SOCKET, to identify this packing in protein structures, and used this to gather a database of coiled-coil structures from the Protein Data Bank. Surprisingly, in addition to commonly accepted structures with a single, contiguous heptad repeat, we identified sequences with multiple, offset heptad repeats. These 'new' sequence patterns help to explain oligomer-state specification in coiled coils. Here we focus on the structural consequences for sequences with two heptad repeats offset by two residues, i.e. a/f′-b/g′-c/a′-d/b′-e/c′-f/d′-g/e′. This sets up two hydrophobic seams on opposite sides of the helix formed. We describe how such helices may combine to bury these hydrophobic surfaces in two different ways and form two distinct structures: open 'α-sheets' and closed 'α-cylinders'. We highlight these with descriptions of natural structures and outline possibilities for protein design.

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