Intrinsic membrane proteins are solvated by a shell of lipid molecules interacting with the membrane-penetrating surface of the protein; these lipid molecules are referred to as annular lipids. Lipid molecules are also found bound between transmembrane α-helices; these are referred to as non-annular lipids. Annular lipid binding constants depend on fatty acyl chain length, but the dependence is less than expected from models based on distortion of the lipid bilayer alone. This suggests that hydrophobic matching between a membrane protein and the surrounding lipid bilayer involves some distortion of the transmembrane α-helical bundle found in most membrane proteins, explaining the importance of bilayer thickness for membrane protein function. Annular lipid binding constants also depend on the structure of the polar headgroup region of the lipid, and hotspots for binding anionic lipids have been detected on some membrane proteins; binding of anionic lipid molecules to these hotspots can be functionally important. Binding of anionic lipids to non-annular sites on membrane proteins such as the potassium channel KcsA can also be important for function. It is argued that the packing preferences of the membrane-spanning α-helices in a membrane protein result in a structure that matches nicely with that of the surrounding lipid bilayer, so that lipid and protein can meet without either having to change very much.

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