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(-) General Aspects

In peptides and proteins amino acids are linked together via their carboxylate carbon and their amine nitrogen atoms. Due to a partial double bond character of this peptide bond between C and N, the rotation around this bond is restricted and only two conformations are energetically preferred . The conformation, in which the dihedral angle omega is 180 deg. is called the trans conformation, and the one, in which omega is 0 deg.  is called the cis conformation [IUPAC, J.Mol.Biol. 1970, 52, 1-17].

In protein structures, the peptide bond conformation is found to be trans in the absolute majority of the cases (Ramachandran & Sasisekharan, 1968). An exception to this constitute the peptide bonds between any amino acid and Pro (Xaa-Pro), for which an appreciable fraction occurs in the cis conformation. A survey by Stewart et al. (1990) found only 0.05% of all Xaa-nonPro, but 6.5% of all Xaa-Pro peptide bonds to occur in the cis conformation, MacArthur and Thornton (1991) found 5.5% cis for Xaa-Pro and recently we (Weiss et al., 1998a) found in a much larger non-redundant set of 571 proteins 5.2% cis for Xaa-Pro and 0.03% cis for Xaa-nonPro.

The reason for this preponderance of the trans peptide bond is believed to lie in the energy difference between the two different forms. It is clear that the cis form is energetically less stable due to a steric repulsion of the two neighbouring Calpha atoms, but the absolute numbers have been the basis of much debate over the years. Experimentally, Radzicka et al. (1988) found that the model compound N-methylacetamide occurs at about 1.5% in the cis form, regardless of the solvent. From this, a difference in free enthalpy of 2.4 kcal/mol can be computed. Almost the same value was reported by Drakenberg and Forsén [J.Cem.Soc.,Chem.Comm. 1971, 1404-1405]. They found deltaG = 2.5 (+/- 0.4 kcal/mol in water. For Pro-containing peptides, Grathwohl and Wüthrich (1976) reported a cis content of about 10 - 15% when the charge at the C-terminus is removed either by protonation or by a protecting group. This corresponds to a free enthalpy difference between cis and trans of about 1.0 - 1.3 kcal/mol at 293 K.

Theoretical calculations are pretty much in accord with these experimental values. Maigret et al. (1970) reported a 0.5 kcal/mol difference between cis and trans for Acetyl-Pro-N(CH3) based on quantum mechanical calculations, and Jorgensen and Gao [J.Am.Chem.Soc. 1988, 110, 4212-4216] reported 2.5 kcal/mol difference for the model compound N-methylacetamide in the gas phase and 2.6 kcal/mol in water. Since these numbers depend critically on the geometrical and force field parameters used, they have to be taken with care.

In proteins, the energetic situtation is more difficult to describe and therefore less clear. Ramachandran and Mitra (1976) used conformational energy calculations of tripeptide units to derive expected frequencies of 0.1% and 30% cis for an Ala-Ala and an Ala-Pro peptide bond respectively. These numbers correspond to respective enthalpy differences of 4.0 kcal/mol and 0.5 kcal/mol.

Experimental data for proteins stem mainly from cis-Pro point mutations. Tweedy et al. (1993) found that the Pro202->Ala mutant of carbonic anhydrase is by about 5 kcal/mol less stable than the wild type enzyme. In both the wild type and the mutant enzyme the peptide bond between residues 201 and 202 oocurs in the cis conformation; therefore the decrease in stability of the protein upon mutating Pro202 to Ala is thought to be mainly due to the less favorable cis/trans equilibrium, although the authors say that other factors may also contribute. Schultz and Baldwin (1992) reported a destabilization of 2.7 kcal/mol for the Pro93->Ala mutant of ribonuclease A with respect to the wild type protein. In the three-dimensional structure of this mutant (Pearson et al., 1998) the loop containing the Tyr92-Ala93 cis peptide bond becomes more mobile, but it seems as if the cis conformation is retained. Mayr et al. (1993) also found a very strong destabilization of about 5 kcal/mol for the Pro39->Ala mutant of ribonuclease T1, but in this case it's not clear whether the mutated protein still contains the peptide bond in the cis conformation.

Due to the double bond character of the amide bond, an appreciable barrier exists for the rotation around the C-N bond. Experimental results for the activation enthalpy for model compounds (Drakenberg & Forsén, 1971) and theoretical calculations ([Christensen et al., J.Chem.Phys. 1970, 53, 3912-3922]; [Perricaudet & Pullman, 1973]) agree on values of about 20 kcal/mol for the activation enthalpy. Such a large barrier makes the interconversion between the two conformations a rather slow process at room temperature. If one assumes for simple stereochemical reasons that all peptide bonds are synthesized in the same conformation, which must be obviously the trans conformation, then it becomes clear that isomerization must occur at some stage of the folding process of the protein, if the correctly folded protein contains at least one peptide bond in cis conformation. And indeed it has been demonstrated (Brandts et al., 1975) that isomerization of the peptide bonds before proline residues plays a decisive role in protein folding. The discovery of prolyl-cis/trans-isomerases (Fischer et al., 1984) supports this notion. It has been shown that these enzymes catalyse the cis/trans isomerization of Xaa-Pro bonds, but not of Xaa-nonPro bonds (Scholz et al., 1998a). Recently, a ribosome-associated prolyl isomerase named trigger factor has been described (Stoller et al., 1995) which binds unfolded proteins that do not contain proline residues (Scholz et al., 1998b). However, isomerization does not take place (Scholz et al., 1998a) and it remains unclear, what happens to the non-Pro cis peptide bonds during the course of folding.

The occurrence of non-Pro cis peptide bonds has been associated with steric strain in proteins (Herzberg and Moult, 1991) similar to the occurrence of residues with unfavorable phi/psi-angles and it has been speculated that the location of these cis peptide bonds is often a peculiar one with respect to the function of the molecule (Stoddard et al., 1998; Weiss et al., 1998). It has been discussed that these sites of strain are some kind of energy reservoir for the protein. In the course of a chemical reaction or a conformational change the energy that could be liberated by a conversion of a cis peptide bond to the trans conformation could help drive the reaction towards the product. This notion, however, is speculative at the time and has to await further experimental confirmation.

(-) The Database

In order to describe the various structural aspects of non-proline cis peptide bonds in proteins, starting from statistical and geometrical considerations, to residue preferences and side-chain interactions that be responsible for the stabilization of such bonds, we have used a non-redundant set of 571 protein structures.

Source:     Brookhaven PDB
Data set:   non-redundant set of 571 proteins selected using following criteria:
                 1.)  model structures, incomlete entries were excluded
                 2.)  only structures from X-ray crystallographic data with a minimum
                       resolution of 3.5 A were accepted
                 3.)  the maximum amino acid identity between any two protein chains
                       of the set was 25%

                              25% database

(-) Amino Acid Distribution in Proteins

 amino acid   25% database  
number   % 
from sequence a) 
Gly 12160          7.9 7.2
Ala 13120          8.6 8.3
Val 10507          6.9 6.6
Leu 13264          8.6 9.0
Ile   8724          5.7 5.2
Phe   6265          4.2 3.9
Tyr   5690          3.8 3.2
Trp   2313          1.5 1.3
Pro   7255          4.8 5.1
Cys   2080          1.4 1.7
Met   3267          2.2 2.4
Ser   9176          6.0 6.9
Thr   8940          5.9 5.8
Lys   8533          5.7 5.7
Arg   7310          4.8 5.7
His   3405          2.3 2.2
Asp   9114          5.9 5.3
Glu   9405          6.1 6.2
Asn   7028          4.7 4.4
Gln   5653          3.7 4.0

a) from primary structure of 1021 unrelated proteins of known sequence
  [P.McCaldon and P.Argos, Proteins 4, 1988, 99-122]

The  25% database contains 571 protein structures with 153209 peptide bonds. The amino acid
composition of this database agree with that derived from sequence data (correlation coefficient
between the two sets of numbers is 0.98). The 25% database is representative and hat is therefore
forms a solid basis for statistical analysis.

(-) Cis Peptide Bonds in Proteins - a General Statistic



<2.0 Å

2.0 Å - 2.5 Å

2.5 - 3.5 Å

Number of Proteins





Number of peptide bonds










Xaa-non Pro





cis peptide bonds




















Xaa-non Pro










        4.8% Xaa-Pro     (4.7% Stewart et al. J.Mol.Biol. 214(1990)253)
       95.2% Xaa-non Pro

        0.3% of all peptide bonds found to be in cis

         90% Xaa-Pro       (about 5% of the total)
         10% Xaa-non Pro   (about 0.03 % of the total)

At high resolution, the number of Xaa-Pro cis peptide bonds is about twice as high than at medium
and low resolution and the number of Xaa-non Pro bonds in cis conformation is about four times
as high.

(-) Non-proline Cis Peptide Bonds - Distribution in the Database

peptide bond total number of 
number in cis  
    frequency [%] 
Xaa-aliphatic (except Pro) 


The 20 amino acids were subdivided into three groups
aliphatic:   Ala, Gly, Leu, Ile, Met, Pro, Val
polar      :   Arg, Asn, Asp, Cys, Gln, Glu, Lys, Ser, Thr
aromatic:   His, Phe, Tyr, Trp

(-) Geometry Geometry of Cis Peptide Bonds in Proteins

Bond Value [Å]1 $\sigma$ Value [Å]2 $\sigma$ Value [Å]3 $\sigma$4 Value [Å]5 $\sigma$
N-C$_{\alpha}$ 1.458 0.021 1.458 0.019 1.488 0.008 1.4606 0.019
C$_{\alpha}$-C 1.527 0.017 1.525 0.021 1.508 0.009 1.527 0.025
C-O 1.236 0.016 1.231 0.020 1.244 0.008 1.238 0.013
C-N+ 1.329 0.016 1.329 0.014 1.376 0.007 1.336 0.010
N+-C$_{\alpha}^{+}$ 1.456 0.013 1.458 0.019 1.457 0.009 1.459 0.007
Angle Value $[^{\circ}]$1 $\sigma$ Value $[^{\circ}]$2 $\sigma$ Value $[^{\circ}]$3 $\sigma$4 Value $[^{\circ}]$5 $\sigma$
N-C$_{\alpha}$-C 109.2 4.0 111.2 2.8 106.7 0.6 108.66 3.0
C$_{\alpha}$-C-O 119.1 2.9 120.8 1.7 121.1 0.5 119.7 1.3
C$_{\alpha}$-C-N+ 120.3 5.5 116.2 2.0 118.3 0.6 119.7 1.2
C-N+-C$_{\alpha}^{+}$ 126.8 4.9 121.7 1.8 127.5 0.6 127.8 1.4
O-C-N+ 120.3 4.3 123.0 1.6 120.3 0.6 120.6 1.1
N+-C$_{\alpha}^{+}$-C+ 109.9 4.3 111.2 2.8 114.5 0.6 112.9 2.6

1 from 27 non-Pro cis peptide bonds in proteins determined at a resolution of $\leq$ 2.0 Å
2 Engh R.A  &  Huber, R.  Acta Cryst. 1991, A47, 392-400
3 from Ala-Asp cis peptide bond in 0.94 Å ConA structure [Deacon et al.,  J. Chem. Soc.
   Faraday Trans. 1997, 93, 4305-4312]
4 Experimental standard deviations from restrained refinement
   (Dr. A. Deacon and Prof. J. Helliwell, personal communication.)
5 from 16 small molecule entries retrieved from the Cambridge Structural Database.
6 based on 7 data points only, since not all the amide bonds from the CSD are in peptides.

(-) Proteins Containing Non-proline Cis Peptide Bonds

PDB Code Protein Resolution1 Non-Proline Cis Peptide Bonds2 Additional Cis Peptidyl-Prolyl Bonds Author(s)1
1AMP aminopeptidase 1.8 D117-D118   Chevrier et al.
1BMF mitochondrial F1-ATPase 2.85 D269-D270 (A) + Abrahams et al.
      D256-N257 (D)    
1CEC endoglucanase CelC 2.15 W313-N314 + Alzari & Dominguez
1CLC endoglucanase CelD 1.9 D177-A178 + Alzari & Lascombe
1CTN chitinase A 2.3 G190-F191   Perrakis et al.
1DYR dihydrofolate reductase ( P. carinii) 1.86 G124-G125 + Champness et al.
1ECE endocellulase E1 2.4 W319-S320 + Sakon et al.
1F13 coagulation factor XIII 2.1 R310-Y311 + Weiss & Hilgenfeld
1GAI glucoamylase-II 1.7 G23-A24 + Aleshin et al.
1GHR 1,3-1,4-$\beta$-glucanase 2.2 F275-A276 + Varghese & Garrett
1GSA glutathione synthetase 2.0 V113-N114 + Hara et al.
1HGX H-G-X phosphoribosyltransferase 1.9 L46-T47   Somoza et al.
1JAP matrix-metalloproteinase-8 1.82 N188-Y189   Bode et al.
1JPC snowdrop lectin (mannose-specific) 2.0 G98-T99   Wright & Hester
1LEN lentil lectin 1.8 A80-D81   Van Overberge et al.
1LUC bacterial luciferase 1.50 A74-A75 + Fisher & Rayment
1MHL myeloperoxidase 2.25 N549-N550 (C) + Fenna et al.
1MKA $\beta$-hydroxydecanoyl ACP dehydrase 2.0 P31-N32   Leesong
1NAR narbonin 1.8 G38-F39 + Hennig et al.
1NBA N-carbamoylsarcosine amidohydrolase 2.0 A172-T173   Romao et al.
1ORO orotate phosphoribosyltransferase 2.4 A71-Y72   Henriksen et al.
1PBG 6-phospho-$\beta$-D-galactosidase 2.3 W421-S422 + Wiesmann & Schulz
1PGS N-glycosidase F 1.8 C204-A205 + Norris et al.
1TPL tyrosine phenol-lyase 2.3 V182-T183 + Antson et al.
1XYZ endo-1,4-$\beta$-xylanase Z 1.4 H596-T597   Alzari et al.
1ZQA DNA polymerase $\beta$ 2.7 G274-S275   Pelletier & Sawaya
2CTC carboxypeptidase A 1.4 S197-Y198   Teplyakov et al.
2EBN endoglycosidase F1 2.0 F45-S46 + Van Roey
2HVM hevamine 1.80 A31-F32 + Van Scheltinga et al.
2MAD methylamine dehydrogenase 2.25 K129-A130   Huizinga et al.
2REB Rec A protein 2.3 D144-S145   Story & Steitz
2TMD trimethylamine dehydrogenase 2.4 T70-H71   Mathews et al.
3DFR dihydrofolate reductase ( L. casei) 1.7 G98-G99 + Filman et al.
4AAH methanol dehydrogenase 2.4 K269-W270 + Mathews & Xia


1 The resolution and the authors quoted are the ones that appear in the respective PDB entries.
2 In case there are different polypeptide chains in the coordinate entry, the identifier of the
   chain containing the cis peptide bond is given in parentheses. Cases with non-crystallographic
   symmetry are only listed once and are not identified explicitly.

(-) Non-proline Cis Peptide Bonds and Functional Implications

metal binding
1AMP Aminopeptidase Asp-Asp Zn++
dimerization site
1HGX  Phosphoribosyltransferase Leu-Thr
1MKA Thiol ester hydrolase His-Phe
1ORO Phosphoribosyltransferase (Orotate) Ala-Tyr
2TMD Trimethylamine dehydrogenase Thr-His
active site
1CTN Chitinase A Gly-Phe
1LEN Lectin Ala-Asp
1TPL Tyrosine phenol-lyase Val-Thr
2EBN Endo-beta-N-acetyl-glucosamidase Phe-Ser
3BLM Beta-lactamase Glu-Ile
5CPA Carboxypeptidase Ser-Tyr
cofactor/substrate binding
1DYR Dihydrofolatereductase  Gly-Gly  NADPH
1ECE Endocellulase E1 Trp-Ser Cellotetraose
1LLO Hevamine Ala-Phe  Allosamidin/
Trp-Ser Allosamizalon
1MKA Thiolester hydrolase  His-Phe 3-Decynoyl-N-Acetyl-

(-) Side Chain Interaction in Non-proline Cis Peptide Bonds

The occurrence of aromatic residues involving a non-proline cis peptide bond is very high

            aromatic residue N-terminal: 1CEC, 1CTN, 1ECE, 1GHR, 1NAR, 1PBG
                                                              2EBN, 2HVM

                                                              the interaction between the aromatic ring and
                                                              the side chain (especially the C(beta) atom)
                                                              is well defined  (JPEG)

           aromatic residue C-terminal   1CTN, 1JAP, 1NAR, 1ORO, 2CTC, 2HVM

                                                             the strucural pattern is not well defined

            43 non-proline cis peptide bonds were found in the 25% database

            10 non-proline cis peptide bonds with interaction between aromatic an aliphatic
                 side chains

             6 non-proline cis peptide bonds with an N-terminal Trp residue

             3 Trp-Ser cis peptide bonds in different proteins having different functions
                with identical conformations  (JPEG)

(-) Conclusions

(-) Further Reading