β-peptides consist of β amino acids, which have their amino group bonded to the β carbon rather than the α carbon as in the 20 standard biological amino acids. The only commonly naturally occurring β amino acid is β-alanine; although it is used as a component of larger bioactive molecules, β-peptides in general do not appear in nature. For this reason β-peptide-based antibiotics are being explored as ways of evading antibiotic resistance. Pioneering studies in this field were published in 1996 by the group of Dieter Seebach and that of Gellman .
The chemical synthesis of β amino acids can be challenging, especially given the diversity of functional groups bonded to the β carbon and the necessity of maintaining chirality. In the alanine molecule shown, the β carbon is achiral; however, most larger amino acids have a chiral atom. A number of synthesis mechanisms have been introduced to efficiently form β amino acids and their derivatives notably those based on the Arndt-Eistert synthesis.
Two main types of β-peptides exist: those with the organic residue (R) next to the amine are called β3-peptides and those with position next to the carbonyl group are called β2-peptides .
Many types of helix structures consisting of β-peptides have been reported. These conformation types are distinguished by the number of atoms in the hydrogen-bonded ring that is formed in solution; 8-helix, 10-helix, 12-helix, 14-helix, and 10/12-helix have been reported. Generally speaking, β-peptides form a more stable helix than α-peptides .
The β-peptide zwit-1F with a fully described quaternary structure is called a β-protein because it has many characteristics of an actual protein. Eight 12-helix units self-assemble in water to a superstructure with a hydrophobic inner core.
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