Many viruses encode short transmembrane proteins that play vital roles in virus replication or virulence. Because many of these proteins are less than 50 amino acids long and not homologous to cellular proteins, their open reading frames were often overlooked during the initial annotation of viral genomes. Some of these proteins oligomerize in membranes and form ion channels. Other miniproteins bind to cellular transmembrane proteins and modulate their activity, whereas still others have an unknown mechanism of action. Based on the underlying principles of transmembrane miniprotein structure, it is possible to build artificial small transmembrane proteins that modulate a variety of biological processes. These findings suggest that short transmembrane proteins provide a versatile mechanism to regulate a wide range of cellular activities, and we speculate that cells also express many similar proteins that have not yet been discovered.


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