We have developed a fluorescence quenching method using peptides containing 3,5-dibromotryrosine to measure oligomerization of model transmembrane a-helices in lipid bilayers. Peptides of the type Ac-LysLysGlyLeu(m)XLeu(n)LysLysAla-amide where X is tryptophan or 3,5-dibromotyrosine were found to form heterodimers in bilayers of phosphatidylcholine in the liquid-crystalline phase. The free energy of dimer formation changed little with increasing number of Leu residues from 16 to 22 but increased with increasing phospholipid fatty acyl chain length, with a slope of about 0.5 kJ mol(-1) per fatty acyl chain carbon. Peptides were excluded from lipid in the gel phase, resulting in increased levels of oligomerization. Addition of cholesterol to form the liquid-ordered state led to increased dimerization but without phase separation. The presence of phosphatidylethanolamine had little effect on dimerization
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