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  1. Defining the denatured state ensemble (DSE) and disordered proteins is essential to understanding folding, chaperone action, degradation, and translocation. As compared with water-soluble proteins, the DSE of membrane proteins is much less characterized. Here, we measure the DSE of the helical membrane protein GlpG of Escherichia coli ( E. coli ) in native-like lipid bilayers. The DSE was obtained using our steric trapping method, which couples denaturation of doubly biotinylated GlpG to binding of two streptavidin molecules. The helices and loops are probed using limited proteolysis and mass spectrometry, while the dimensions are determined using our paramagnetic biotin derivative and double electron–electron resonance spectroscopy. These data, along with our Upside simulations, identify the DSE as being highly dynamic, involving the topology changes and unfolding of some of the transmembrane (TM) helices. The DSE is expanded relative to the native state but only to 15 to 75% of the fully expanded condition. The degree of expansion depends on the local protein packing and the lipid composition. E. coli ’s lipid bilayer promotes the association of TM helices in the DSE and, probably in general, facilitates interhelical interactions. This tendency may be the outcome of a general lipophobic effect of proteins within the cell membranes. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
    Packing interaction is a critical driving force in the folding of helical membrane proteins. Despite the importance, packing defects (i.e., cavities including voids, pockets, and pores) are prevalent in membrane-integral enzymes, channels, transporters, and receptors, playing essential roles in function. Then, a question arises regarding how the two competing requirements, packing for stability vs. cavities for function, are reconciled in membrane protein structures. Here, using the intramembrane protease GlpG of Escherichia coli as a model and cavity-filling mutation as a probe, we tested the impacts of native cavities on the thermodynamic stability and function of a membrane protein. We find several stabilizing mutations which induce substantial activity reduction without distorting the active site. Notably, these mutations are all mapped onto the regions of conformational flexibility and functional importance, indicating that the cavities facilitate functional movement of GlpG while compromising the stability. Experiment and molecular dynamics simulation suggest that the stabilization is induced by the coupling between enhanced protein packing and weakly unfavorable lipid desolvation, or solely by favorable lipid solvation on the cavities. Our result suggests that, stabilized by the relatively weak interactions with lipids, cavities are accommodated in membrane proteins without severe energetic cost, which, in turn, serve as a platform to fine-tune the balance between stability and flexibility for optimal activity. 
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