Structural model of the phospholamban ion channel complex in phospholipid membranes

Isaiah T. Arkin, Matthew Rothman, Cheryl F.C. Ludlam, Saburo Aimoto, Donald M. Engelman, Kenneth J. Rothschild, Steven O. Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Phospholamban is a 52 amino acid residue membrane protein involved with the regulation of calcium levels across sarcoplasmic reticulum membranes in cardiac muscle cells. The N-terminal 30 amino acid residues of the protein are largely hydrophilic and include two sites whose phosphorylation is thought to dissociate an inhibitory complex between phospholamban and Ca2+ ATPase. The C-terminal 22 amino acid residues are largely hydrophobic, anchor the protein in the membrane and are responsible for Ca2+ selective ion conductance. Specific interactions between the transmembrane domains stabilize a pentameric protein complex. We have obtained circular dichroism (CD), transmission Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) and attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectra of the full-length protein and have compared these results to those from a 28 residue peptide that includes the transmembrane domain. Both proteins reconstituted into phospholipid membranes are largely α-helical by CD and FTIR. Polarized ATR-FTIR measurements show that both the cytosolic and transmembrane helices are oriented perpendicular to the membrane plane with a tilt of 28(±6)° with respect to the membrane normal. This tilt angle is in close agreement to that calculated from a model for the transmembrane domain of phospholamban suggested by mutagenesis and molecular modeling. Phosphorylation does not significantly change the secondary structure or orientation of the protein. The pentameric complex is modeled as a left-handed coiled-coil of five long helices (40(±3) residues) that extend across the membrane from the lumenal carboxy terminus to the phosphorylation site in the cytoplasm. The helix bundle forms a perpendicular ion pore that may begin at a distance (17 to 29 Å) from the membrane surface. Based on the above, we propose a mechanism by which phospholamban regulates Ca2+ levels across membranes that takes into account both its selective ion conductance and inhibitory association with the Ca2+ pump.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)824-834
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 12 May 1995
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr Paul D. Adams for many helpful discussions and for preparing Figure 5. We also thank Dr David Stern for help with the quantitative phosphorylation experiments, and Dr James Elliott and Myron Crawford for their technical support for amino acid analyses and the synthesis of PLBWT. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health to S.O.S. (GM 46732), D.M.E. (GM 22778) and K.J.R. (6M 47527), and the U.S. Army Research Office to K.J.R. (DAALO3-92-G-0172).


  • Ca regulation
  • Membrane protein
  • Sarcoplasmic reticulum
  • Secondary structure


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