Human cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes play an important role in the metabolism of drugs, steroids, fatty acids, and xenobiotics. Microsomal CYPs are anchored in the endoplasmic reticulum membrane by an N-terminal transmembrane (TM) helix that is connected to the globular catalytic domain by a flexible linker sequence. However, the structural and functional importance of the TM-helix is unclear because it has been shown that CYPs can still associate with the membrane and have enzymatic activity in reconstituted systems after truncation or modification of the N-terminal sequence. Here, we investigated the effect of mutations in the N-terminal TM-helix residues of two human steroidogenic enzymes, CYP 17A1 and CYP 19A1, that are major drug targets for cancer therapy. These mutations were originally introduced to increase the expression of the proteins in Escherichia coli. To investigate the effect of the mutations on protein-membrane interactions and function, we carried out coarse-grained and all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of the CYPs in a phospholipid bilayer. We confirmed the orientations of the globular domain in the membrane observed in the simulations by linear dichroism measurements in a Nanodisc. Whereas the behavior of CYP 19A1 was rather insensitive to truncation of the TM-helix, mutations in the TM-helix of CYP 17A1, especially W2A and E3L, led to a gradual drifting of the TM-helix out of the hydrophobic core of the membrane. This instability of the TM-helix could affect interactions with the allosteric redox partner, cytochrome b5, required for CYP 17A1’s lyase activity. Furthermore, the simulations showed that the mutant TM-helix influenced the membrane interactions of the CYP 17A1 globular domain. In some simulations, the mutated TM-helix obstructed the substrate access tunnel from the membrane to the CYP active site, indicating a possible effect on enzyme function.
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