Studying membrane active peptides or protein fragments within the lipid bilayer environment is particularly challenging in the case of synthetically modified, labeled, artificial, or recently discovered native structures. For such samples the localization and orientation of the molecular species or probe within the lipid bilayer environment is the focus of research prior to an evaluation of their dynamic or mechanistic behavior. X-ray scattering is a powerful method to study peptide/lipid interactions in the fluid, fully hydrated state of a lipid bilayer. For one, the lipid response can be revealed by observing membrane thickening and thinning as well as packing in the membrane plane; at the same time, the distinct positions of peptide moieties within lipid membranes can be elucidated at resolutions of up to several angstroms by applying heavy-atom labeling techniques. In this study, we describe a generally applicable X-ray scattering approach that provides robust and quantitative information about peptide insertion and localization as well as peptide/lipid interaction within highly oriented, hydrated multilamellar membrane stacks. To this end, we have studied an artificial, designed β-helical peptide motif in its homodimeric and hairpin variants adopting different states of oligomerization. These peptide lipid complexes were analyzed by grazing incidence diffraction (GID) to monitor changes in the lateral lipid packing and ordering. In addition, we have applied anomalous reflectivity using synchrotron radiation as well as in-house X-ray reflectivity in combination with iodine-labeling in order to determine the electron density distribution ρ(z) along the membrane normal (z axis), and thereby reveal the hydrophobic mismatch situation as well as the position of certain amino acid side chains within the lipid bilayer. In the case of multiple labeling, the latter technique is not only applicable to demonstrate the peptide’s reconstitution but also to generate evidence about the relative peptide orientation with respect to the lipid bilayer
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