In order to gain greater insight into the effects of beta-branched amino acids on protein alpha-helices, hydrophobic amino acids with varying degrees of beta-branching, including the fully beta-substituted L-2-amino-3,3-dimethylbutanoic acid (ADBA), were incorporated into the protein T4 lysozyme. The unnatural and natural amino acids were substituted at two solvent-exposed alpha-helical sites, Ser 44 and Asn 68, in the protein using the technique of unnatural amino acid mutagenesis. The stabilities of the mutant proteins were determined by using a heat of inactivation assay and from their circular dichroism thermal denaturation curves. Surprisingly, while substitution of the amino acid with the greatest degree of beta-branching, ADBA, destabilizes the protein by 2.5 +/- 0.1 degrees C (0.69 +/- 0.03 kcal/mol) relative to Ala at site 44, the same substitution stabilizes the protein by 1.0 +/- 0.1 degree C (0.27 +/- 0.03 kcal/mol) at site 68. The difference observed at these two positions illustrates the extent to which the local context can mediate the impact of a particular mutation. Molecular dynamics simulations were carried out in parallel to model the structures of the mutant proteins and to examine the energetic consequences of incorporating ADBA. Together, these results suggest that the conformationally restricted beta-branched amino acids are destabilizing, in part, because the beta-branched methyl groups can cause distortions in the local helix backbone. In addition, it is proposed that in some contexts the conformational rigidity of beta-branched amino acids may be stabilizing because it lowers the entropic cost of forming favorable side-chain van der Waals interactions.