The PPII helix is defined by (φ,ψ) backbone dihedral angles of roughly (-75°, 150°) and trans isomers of the peptide bonds. The rotation angle Ω per residue of any polypeptide helix with trans isomers is given by the equation
Substitution of the poly-Pro II (φ,ψ) dihedral angles into this equation yields almost exactly Ω = -120°, i.e., the PPII helix is a left-handed helix (since Ω is negative) with three residues per turn (360°/120° = 3). The rise per residue is approximately 3.1 Å. This structure is somewhat similar to that adopted in the fibrous protein collagen, which is composed mainly of proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine. PPII helices are specifically bound by SH3 domains; this binding is important for many protein-protein interactions and even for interactions between the domains of a single protein.
The PPII helix is relatively open and has no internal hydrogen bonding, as opposed to the more common helical secondary structures, the alpha helix and its relatives the 310 helix and the pi helix, as well as the β-helix. The amide nitrogen and oxygen atoms are too far apart (approximately 3.8 Å) and oriented incorrectly for hydrogen bonding. Moreover, these atoms are both H-bond acceptors in proline; there is no H-bond donor due to the cyclic side chain.
The PPII backbone dihedral angles (-75°, 150°) are observed frequently in proteins, even for amino acids other than proline. The Ramachandran plot is highly populated in the PPII region, comparably to the beta sheet region around (-135°, 135°). For example, the PPII backbone dihedral angles are often observed in turns, most commonly in the first residue of a type II β-turn. The "mirror image" PPII backbone dihedral angles (75°, -150°) are rarely seen, except in polymers of the achiral amino acid glycine. The analog of the poly-Pro II helix in poly-glycine is called the poly-Gly II helix.
The poly-Pro I helix is much denser than the PPII helix due to the cis isomers of its peptide bonds. It is also rarer than the PPII conformation because the cis isomer is higher in energy than the trans. Its typical dihedral angles (-75°, 160°) are close, but not identical to, those of the PPII helix. However, the PPI helix is a right-handed helix and more tightly wound, with roughly 3.3 residues per turn (rather than 3). The rise per residue in the PPI helix is also much smaller, roughly 1.9 Å. Again, there is no internal hydrogen bonding in the poly-Pro I helix, both because an H-bond donor atom is lacking and because the amide nitrogen and oxygen atoms are too distant (roughly 3.8 Å again) and oriented incorrectly.
The poly-Pro helices are stable and stiff despite their lack of internal hydrogen bonding, and have been used as a "molecular ruler" in biophysical experiments, e.g., to calibrate distances measured by FRET. Interconversions between the PPII and PPI helix forms of poly-proline are slow, due to the high activation energy of X-Pro cis-trans isomerization (Ea ≈ 20 kcal/mol); however, this interconversion may be catalyzed by specific isomerases known as prolyl isomerases or PPIases.