Potassium channels selectively conduct K(+) ions across cellular membranes with extraordinary efficiency. Their selectivity filter exhibits four binding sites with approximately equal electron density in crystal structures with high K(+) concentrations, previously thought to reflect a superposition of alternating ion- and water-occupied states. Consequently, cotranslocation of ions with water has become a widely accepted ion conduction mechanism for potassium channels. By analyzing more than 1300 permeation events from molecular dynamics simulations at physiological voltages, we observed instead that permeation occurs via ion-ion contacts between neighboring K(+) ions. Coulomb repulsion between adjacent ions is found to be the key to high-efficiency K(+) conduction. Crystallographic data are consistent with directly neighboring K(+) ions in the selectivity filter, and our model offers an intuitive explanation for the high throughput rates of K(+) channels.
Motions play a vital role in the functions of many proteins. Discrete conformational transitions to excited states, happening on timescales of hundreds of microseconds, have been extensively characterized. On the other hand, the dynamics of the ground state are widely unexplored. Newly developed high-power relaxation dispersion experiments allow the detection of motions up to a one-digit microsecond timescale. These experiments showed that side chains in the hydrophobic core as well as at protein-protein interaction surfaces of both ubiquitin and the third immunoglobulin binding domain of protein G move on the microsecond timescale. Both proteins exhibit plasticity to this microsecond motion through redistribution of the populations of their side-chain rotamers, which interconvert on the picosecond to nanosecond timescale, making it likely that this "population shuffling" process is a general mechanism.
In a conformational selection scenario, manipulating the populations of binding-competent states should be expected to affect protein binding. We demonstrate how in silico designed point mutations within the core of ubiquitin, remote from the binding interface, change the binding specificity by shifting the conformational equilibrium of the ground-state ensemble between open and closed substates that have a similar population in the wild-type protein. Binding affinities determined by NMR titration experiments agree with the predictions, thereby showing that, indeed, a shift in the conformational equilibrium enables us to alter ubiquitin's binding specificity and hence its function. Thus, we present a novel route towards designing specific binding by a conformational shift through exploiting the fact that conformational selection depends on the concentration of binding-competent substates.
Recently, several short peptides have been shown to self-assemble into amyloid fibrils with generic cross-? spines, so-called steric zippers, suggesting common underlying structural features and aggregation mechanisms. Understanding these mechanisms is a prerequisite for designing fibril-binding compounds and inhibitors of fibril formation. The hexapeptide VEALYL, corresponding to the residues B12-17 of full-length insulin, has been identified as one of these short segments. Here, we analyzed the structures of multiple, morphologically different (fibrillar, microcrystal-like, oligomeric) [(13)C,(15)N]VEALYL samples by solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance complemented with results from molecular dynamics simulations. By performing NHHC/CHHC experiments, we could determine that the ?-strands within a given sheet of the amyloid-like fibrils formed by the insulin hexapeptide VEALYL are stacked in an antiparallel manner, whereas the sheet-to-sheet packing arrangement was found to be parallel. Experimentally observed secondary chemical shifts for all aggregate forms, as well as Ø and ? backbone torsion angles calculated with TALOS, are indicative of ?-strand conformation, consistent with the published crystal structure (PDB ID: 2OMQ). Thus, we could demonstrate that the structural features of all the observed VEALYL aggregates are in agreement with the previously observed homosteric zipper spine packing in the crystalline state, suggesting that several distinct aggregate morphologies share the same molecular architecture.
Many reduced cupredoxins undergo a pH-dependent structural rearrangement, triggered by protonation of the His ligand belonging to the C-terminal hydrophobic loop, usually termed the acid transition. At variance with several members of the cupredoxin family, the acid transition is not observed for azurin (AZ). We have addressed this issue by performing molecular dynamics simulations of AZ and four mutants, in which the C-terminal loop has been replaced with those of other cupredoxins or with polyalanine loops. All of the loop mutants undergo the acid transition in the pH range of 4.4-5.5. The main differences between AZ and its loop mutants are the average value of the active site solvent accessible surface area and the extent of its fluctuations with time, together with an altered structure of the water layer around the copper center. Using functional mode analysis, we found that these variations arise from changes in nonbonding interactions in the second coordination sphere of the copper center, resulting from the loop mutation. Our results strengthen the view that the dynamics at the site relevant for function and its surroundings are crucial for protein activity and for metal-containing electron transferases.
Hemoglobin is the prototypic allosteric protein. Still, its molecular allosteric mechanism is not fully understood. To elucidate the mechanism of cooperativity on an atomistic level, we developed a novel computational technique to analyse the coupling of tertiary and quaternary motions. From Molecular Dynamics simulations showing spontaneous quaternary transitions, we separated the transition trajectories into two orthogonal sets of motions: one consisting of intra-chain motions only (referred to as tertiary-only) and one consisting of global inter-chain motions only (referred to as quaternary-only). The two underlying subspaces are orthogonal by construction and their direct sum is the space of full motions. Using Functional Mode Analysis, we were able to identify a collective coordinate within the tertiary-only subspace that is correlated to the most dominant motion within the quaternary-only motions, hence providing direct insight into the allosteric coupling mechanism between tertiary and quaternary conformation changes. This coupling-motion is substantially different from tertiary structure changes between the crystallographic structures of the T- and R-state. We found that hemoglobins allosteric mechanism of communication between subunits is equally based on hydrogen bonds and steric interactions. In addition, we were able to affect the T-to-R transition rates by choosing different histidine protonation states, thereby providing a possible atomistic explanation for the Bohr effect.
Serine/arginine-rich (SR) proteins are important players in RNA metabolism and are extensively phosphorylated at serine residues in RS repeats. Here, we show that phosphorylation switches the RS domain of the serine/arginine-rich splicing factor 1 from a fully disordered state to a partially rigidified arch-like structure. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in combination with molecular dynamics simulations revealed that the conformational switch is restricted to RS repeats, critically depends on the phosphate charge state and strongly decreases the conformational entropy of RS domains. The dynamic switch also occurs in the 100 kDa SR-related protein hPrp28, for which phosphorylation at the RS repeat is required for spliceosome assembly. Thus, a phosphorylation-induced dynamic switch is common to the class of serine/arginine-rich proteins and provides a molecular basis for the functional redundancy of serine/arginine-rich proteins and the profound influence of RS domain phosphorylation on protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions.
In the field of biomolecular simulations, dynamics of phospholipid membranes is of special interest. A number of proteins, including channels, transporters, receptors and short peptides are embedded in lipid bilayers and tightly interact with phospholipids. While the experimental measurements report on the spatial and/or temporal average membrane properties, simulation results are not restricted to the average properties. In the current study, we present a collection of methods for an efficient local membrane property calculation, comprising bilayer thickness, area per lipid, deuterium order parameters, Gaussian and mean curvature. The local membrane property calculation allows for a direct mapping of the membrane features, which subsequently can be used for further analysis and visualization of the processes of interest. The main features of the described methods are highlighted in a number of membrane systems, namely: a pure dimyristoyl-phosphatidyl-choline (DMPC) bilayer, a fusion peptide interacting with a membrane, voltage-dependent anion channel protein embedded in a DMPC bilayer, cholesterol enriched bilayer and a coarse grained simulation of a curved palmitoyl-oleoyl-phosphatidyl-choline lipid membrane. The local membrane property analysis proves to provide an intuitive and detailed view on the observables that are otherwise interpreted as averaged bilayer properties.
The bacterial potassium channel KcsA, which has been crystallized in several conformations, offers an ideal model to investigate activation gating of ion channels. In this study, essential dynamics simulations are applied to obtain insights into the transition pathways and the energy profile of KcsA pore gating. In agreement with previous hypotheses, our simulations reveal a two phasic activation gating process. In the first phase, local structural rearrangements in TM2 are observed leading to an intermediate channel conformation, followed by large structural rearrangements leading to full opening of KcsA. Conformational changes of a highly conserved phenylalanine, F114, at the bundle crossing region are crucial for the transition from a closed to an intermediate state. 3.9 µs umbrella sampling calculations reveal that there are two well-defined energy barriers dividing closed, intermediate, and open channel states. In agreement with mutational studies, the closed state was found to be energetically more favorable compared to the open state. Further, the simulations provide new insights into the dynamical coupling effects of F103 between the activation gate and the selectivity filter. Investigations on individual subunits support cooperativity of subunits during activation gating.
The involvement of aquaporin (AQP) water and small solute channels in the etiology of several diseases, including cancer, neuromyelitis optica and body fluid imbalance disorders, has been suggested previously. Furthermore, results obtained in a mouse model suggested that AQP9 function contributes to hyperglycemia in type-2 diabetes. In addition, the physiological role of several AQP family members remains poorly understood. Small molecule inhibitors of AQPs are therefore desirable to further study AQP physiological and pathophysiological functions.
Aquaporin 4 (AQP4) is the predominant water channel in the mammalian brain and is mainly expressed in the perivascular glial endfeet at the brain-blood interface. AQP4 has been described as an important entry and exit site for water during formation of brain edema and regulation of AQP4 is therefore of therapeutic interest. Phosphorylation of some aquaporins has been proposed to regulate their water permeability via gating of the channel itself. Protein kinase (PK)-dependent phosphorylation of Ser(111) has been reported to increase the water permeability of AQP4 expressed in an astrocytic cell line. This possibility was, however, questioned based on the crystal structure of the human AQP4. Our study aimed to resolve if Ser(111) was indeed a site involved in phosphorylation-mediated gating of AQP4. The water permeability of AQP4-expressing Xenopus oocytes was not altered by a range of activators and inhibitors of PKG and PKA. Mutation of Ser(111) to alanine or aspartate (to prevent or mimic phosphorylation) did not change the water permeability of AQP4. PKG activation had no effect on the water permeability of AQP4 in primary cultures of rat astrocytes. Molecular dynamics simulations of a phosphorylation of AQP4.Ser(111) recorded no phosphorylation-induced change in water permeability. A phospho-specific antibody, exclusively recognizing AQP4 when phosphorylated on Ser(111) , failed to detect phosphorylation in cell lysate of rat brain stimulated by conditions proposed to induce phosphorylation of this residue. Thus, our data indicate a lack of phosphorylation of Ser(111) and of phosphorylation-dependent gating of AQP4.
Multicellular organisms fight bacterial and fungal infections by producing peptide-derived broad-spectrum antibiotics. These host-defense peptides compromise the integrity of microbial cell membranes and thus evade pathways by which bacteria develop rapid antibiotic resistance. Although more than 1,700 host-defense peptides have been identified, the structural and mechanistic basis of their action remains speculative. This impedes the desired rational development of these agents into next-generation antibiotics. We present the X-ray crystal structure as well as solid-state NMR spectroscopy, electrophysiology, and MD simulations of human dermcidin in membranes that reveal the antibiotic mechanism of this major human antimicrobial, found to suppress Staphylococcus aureus growth on the epidermal surface. Dermcidin forms an architecture of high-conductance transmembrane channels, composed of zinc-connected trimers of antiparallel helix pairs. Molecular dynamics simulations elucidate the unusual membrane permeation pathway for ions and show adjustment of the pore to various membranes. Our study unravels the comprehensive mechanism for the membrane-disruptive action of this mammalian host-defense peptide at atomistic level. The results may form a foundation for the structure-based design of peptide antibiotics.
Analysis of the internal dynamics of a biological molecule requires the successful removal of overall translation and rotation. Particularly for flexible or intrinsically disordered peptides, this is a challenging task due to the absence of a well-defined reference structure that could be used for superpositioning. In this work, we started the analysis with a widely known formulation of an objective for the problem of superimposing a set of multiple molecules as variance minimization over an ensemble. A negative effect of this superpositioning method is the introduction of ambiguous rotations, where different rotation matrices may be applied to structurally similar molecules. We developed two algorithms to resolve the suboptimal rotations. The first approach minimizes the variance together with the distance of a structure to a preceding molecule in the ensemble. The second algorithm seeks for minimal variance together with the distance to the nearest neighbors of each structure. The newly developed methods were applied to molecular-dynamics trajectories and normal-mode ensembles of the A? peptide, RS peptide, and lysozyme. These new (to our knowledge) superpositioning methods combine the benefits of variance and distance between nearest-neighbor(s) minimization, providing a solution for the analysis of intrinsic motions of flexible molecules and resolving ambiguous rotations.
It has been hypothesized that aquaporin-9 (AQP9) is part of the unknown route of hepatocyte glycerol uptake. In a previous study, leptin receptor-deficient wild-type mice became diabetic and suffered from fasting hyperglycemia whereas isogenic AQP9(-/-) knock-out mice remained normoglycemic. The reason for this improvement in AQP9(-/-) mice was not established before. Here, we show increased glucose output (by 123% ± 36% S.E.) in primary hepatocyte culture when 0.5 mM extracellular glycerol was added. This increase depended on AQP9 because it was absent in AQP9(-/-) cells. Likewise, the increase was abolished by 25 ?M HTS13286 (IC(50) ~ 2 ?M), a novel AQP9 inhibitor, which we identified in a small molecule library screen. Similarly, AQP9 deletion or chemical inhibition eliminated glycerol-enhanced glucose output in perfused liver preparations. The following control experiments suggested inhibitor specificity to AQP9: (i) HTS13286 affected solute permeability in cell lines expressing AQP9, but not in cell lines expressing AQPs 3, 7, or 8. (ii) HTS13286 did not influence lactate- and pyruvate-dependent hepatocyte glucose output. (iii) HTS13286 did not affect glycerol kinase activity. Our experiments establish AQP9 as the primary route of hepatocyte glycerol uptake for gluconeogenesis and thereby explain the previously observed, alleviated diabetes in leptin receptor-deficient AQP9(-/-) mice.
DNA-binding proteins are key players in the regulation of gene expression and, hence, are essential for cell function. Chimeric proteins composed of DNA-binding domains and DNA modifying domains allow for precise genome manipulation. A key prerequisite is the specific recognition of a particular nucleotide sequence. Here, we quantitatively assess the binding affinity of DNA-binding proteins by molecular dynamics-based alchemical free energy simulations. A computational framework was developed to automatically set up in silico screening assays and estimate free energy differences using two independent procedures, based on equilibrium and non-equlibrium transformation pathways. The influence of simulation times on the accuracy of both procedures is presented. The binding specificity of a zinc-finger transcription factor to several sequences is calculated, and agreement with experimental data is shown. Finally we propose an in silico screening strategy aiming at the derivation of full specificity profiles for DNA-binding proteins.
The hERG potassium channel is of major pharmaceutical importance, and its blockade by various compounds, potentially causing serious cardiac side effects, is a major problem in drug development. Despite the large amounts of existing biochemical data on blockade of hERG by drugs and druglike compounds, relatively little is known regarding the structural basis of binding of blockers to the channel. Here, we have used a recently developed homology model of hERG to conduct molecular docking experiments with a series of channel blockers, followed by molecular dynamics simulations of the complexes and evaluation of binding free energies with the linear interaction energy method. The calculations yield a remarkably good agreement with experimental binding affinities and allow for a rationalization of three-dimensional structure-activity relationships in terms of a number of key interactions. Two main interaction regions of the channel are thus identified with implications for further mutagenesis experiments and design of new compounds.
The process of protein misfolding and self-assembly into various, polymorphic aggregates is associated with a number of important neurodegenerative diseases. Only recently, crystal structures of several short peptides have provided detailed structural insights into -sheet rich aggregates, known as amyloid fibrils. Knowledge about early events of the formation and interconversion of small oligomeric states, an inevitable step in the cascade of peptide self-assembly, however, remains still limited. We employ molecular dynamics simulations in explicit solvent to study the spontaneous aggregation process of steric zipper peptide segments from the tau protein and insulin in atomistic detail. Starting from separated chains with random conformations, we find a rapid formation of structurally heterogeneous, -sheet rich oligomers, emerging from multiple bimolecular association steps and diverse assembly pathways. Furthermore, our study provides evidence that aggregate intermediates as small as dimers can be kinetically trapped and thus affect the structural evolution of larger oligomers. Alternative aggregate structures are found for both peptide sequences in the different independent simulations, some of which feature characteristics of the known steric zipper conformation (e.g., -sheet bilayers with a dry interface). The final aggregates interconvert with topologically distinct oligomeric states exclusively via internal rearrangements. The peptide oligomerization was analyzed through the perspective of a minimal oligomer, i.e., the dimer. Thereby all observed multimeric aggregates can be consistently mapped onto a space of reduced dimensionality. This novel method of conformational mapping reveals heterogeneous association and reorganization dynamics that are governed by the characteristics of peptide sequence and oligomer size.
Presently, most simulations of ion channel function rely upon nonatomistic Brownian dynamics calculations, indirect interpretation of energy maps, or application of external electric fields. We present a computational method to directly simulate ion flux through membrane channels based on biologically realistic electrochemical gradients. In close analogy to single-channel electrophysiology, physiologically and experimentally relevant timescales are achieved. We apply our method to the bacterial channel PorB from pathogenic Neisseria meningitidis, which, during Neisserial infection, inserts into the mitochondrial membrane of target cells and elicits apoptosis by dissipating the membrane potential. We show that our method accurately predicts ion conductance and selectivity and elucidates ion conduction mechanisms in great detail. Handles for overcoming channel-related antibiotic resistance are identified.
The voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC), located in the outer mitochondrial membrane, acts as a gatekeeper for the entry and exit of mitochondrial metabolites. Here we reveal functional dynamics of isoform one of VDAC (VDAC1) by a combination of solution NMR spectroscopy, Gaussian network model analysis, and molecular dynamics simulation. Micro- to millisecond dynamics are significantly increased for the N-terminal six ?-strands of VDAC1 in micellar solution, in agreement with increased B-factors observed in the same region in the bicellar crystal structure of VDAC1. Molecular dynamics simulations reveal that a charge on the membrane-facing glutamic acid 73 (E73) accounts for the elevation of N-terminal protein dynamics as well as a thinning of the nearby membrane. Mutation or chemical modification of E73 strongly reduces the micro- to millisecond dynamics in solution. Because E73 is necessary for hexokinase-I-induced VDAC channel closure and inhibition of apoptosis, our results imply that micro- to millisecond dynamics in the N-terminal part of the barrel are essential for VDAC interaction and gating.
As a member of the ubiquitous ammonium transporter/methylamine permease/Rhesus (Amt/MEP/Rh) family of membrane protein channels, the 50 kDa Rhesus channel (Rh50) has been implicated in ammonia (NH(3)) and, more recently, also in carbon dioxide (CO(2)) transport. Here we present molecular dynamics simulations of spontaneous full permeation events of ammonia and carbon dioxide across Rh50 from Nitrosomonas europaea. The simulations show that Rh50 is functional in its crystallographic conformation, without the requirement for a major conformational change or the action of a protein partner. To assess the physiological relevance of NH(3) and CO(2) permeation across Rh50, we have computed potentials of mean force (PMFs) and permeabilities for NH(3) and CO(2) flux across Rh50 and compare them to permeation through a wide range of lipid membranes, either composed of pure lipids or composed of lipids plus an increasing cholesterol content. According to the PMFs, Rh50 is expected to enhance NH(3) flux across dense membranes, such as membranes with a substantial cholesterol content. Although cholesterol reduces the intrinsic CO(2) permeability of lipid membranes, the CO(2) permeabilities of all membranes studied here are too high to allow significant Rh50-mediated CO(2) flux. The increased barrier in the PMF for water permeation across Rh50 shows that Rh50 discriminates 40-fold between water and NH(3). Thus, Rh50 channels complement aquaporins, allowing the cell to regulate water and NH(3) flux independently. The PMFs for methylamine and NH(3) are virtually identical, suggesting that methylamine provides an excellent model for NH(3) in functional experiments.
Aquaporins (AQPs) facilitate the passive flux of water across biological membranes in response to an osmotic pressure. A number of AQPs, for instance in plants and yeast, have been proposed to be regulated by phosphorylation, cation concentration, pH change, or membrane-mediated mechanical stress. Here we report an extensive set of molecular dynamics simulations of AQP1 and AQP4 subject to large membrane potentials in the range of ±1.5 V, suggesting that AQPs may in addition be regulated by an electrostatic potential. As the regulatory mechanism we identified the relative population of two different states of the conserved arginine in the aromatic/arginine constriction region. A positive membrane potential was found to stabilize the arginine in an up-state, which allows rapid water flux, whereas a negative potential favors a down-state, which reduces the single-channel water permeability.
The umami taste receptor is a heterodimer composed of two members of the T1R taste receptor family: T1R1 and T1R3. It detects glutamate in humans, and is a more general amino acid detector in other species. We have constructed homology models of the ligand binding domains of the human umami receptor (based on crystallographic structures of the metabotropic glutamate receptor of the central nervous system). We have carried out molecular dynamics simulations of the ligand binding domains, and we find that the likely conformation is that T1R1 receptor protein exists in the closed conformation, and T1R3 receptor in the open conformation in the heterodimer. Further, we have identified the important binding interactions and have made an estimate of the relative free energies associated with the two glutamate binding sites.
The aquaglyceroporin from Plasmodium falciparum (PfAQP) is a potential drug target for the treatment of malaria. It efficiently conducts water and other small solutes, and is proposed to intervene in several crucial physiological processes during the parasitic life cycle. Despite the wealth of experimental data available, a dynamical and energetic description at the single-molecule level of the solute permeation through PfAQP has been lacking so far. Here we address this question by using equilibrium and umbrella sampling molecular dynamics simulations. We computed the water osmotic permeability coefficient, the pore geometry and the potential of mean force for the permeation of water, glycerol and urea. Our simulations show that the PfAQP, the human aquaporin 1 (hAQP1) and the Escherichia coli glycerol facilitator (GlpF) have nearly identical water permeabilities. The Arg196 residue at the ar/R region was found to play a crucial role regulating the permeation of water, glycerol and urea. The computed free energy barriers at the ar/R selectivity filter corroborate that PfAQP conducts glycerol at higher rates than urea, and suggest that PfAQP is a more efficient glycerol and urea channel than GlpF. Our results are consistent with a solute permeation mechanism for PfAQP which is similar to the one established for other members of the aquaglyceroporin family. In this mechanism, hydrophobic regions near the NPA motifs are the main water rate limiting barriers, and the replacement of water-arg196 interactions and solute-matching in the hydrophobic pocket at the ar/R region are the main determinants underlying selectivity for the permeation of solutes like glycerol and urea.
Protein dynamics on the atomic level and on the microsecond timescale has recently become accessible from both computation and experiment. To validate molecular dynamics (MD) at the submicrosecond timescale against experiment we present microsecond MD simulations in 10 different force-field configurations for two globular proteins, ubiquitin and the gb3 domain of protein G, for which extensive NMR data is available. We find that the reproduction of the measured NMR data strongly depends on the chosen force field and electrostatics treatment. Generally, particle-mesh Ewald outperforms cut-off and reaction-field approaches. A comparison to measured J-couplings across hydrogen bonds suggests that there is room for improvement in the force-field description of hydrogen bonds in most modern force fields. Our results show that with current force fields, simulations beyond hundreds of nanoseconds run an increased risk of undergoing transitions to nonnative conformational states or will persist within states of high free energy for too long, thus skewing the obtained population frequencies. Only for the AMBER99sb force field have such transitions not been observed. Thus, our results have significance for the interpretation of data obtained with long MD simulations, for the selection of force fields for MD studies and for force-field development. We hope that this comprehensive benchmark based on NMR data applied to many popular MD force fields will serve as a useful resource to the MD community. Finally, we find that for gb3, the force-field AMBER99sb reaches comparable accuracy in back-calculated residual dipolar couplings and J-couplings across hydrogen bonds to ensembles obtained by refinement against NMR data.
Malfunction of hERG potassium channels, due to inherited mutations or inhibition by drugs, can cause long QT syndrome, which can lead to life-threatening arrhythmias. A three-dimensional structure of hERG is a prerequisite to understand the molecular basis of hERG malfunction. To achieve a consensus model, we carried out an extensive analysis of hERG models based on various alignments of helix S5. We analyzed seven models using a combination of conventional geometry/packing/normality validation methods as well as molecular dynamics simulations and molecular docking. A synthetic test set with the X-ray crystal structure of K(v)1.2 with artificially shifted S5 sequences modeled into the structure served as a reference case. We docked the known hERG inhibitors (+)-cisapride, (S)-terfenadine, and MK-499 into the hERG models and simulation snapshots. None of the single analyses unambiguously identified a preferred model, but the combination of all three revealed that there is only one model that fulfils all quality criteria. This model is confirmed by a recent mutation scanning experiment (P. Ju, G. Pages, R. P. Riek, P. C. Chen, A. M. Torres, P. S. Bansal, S. Kuyucak, P. W. Kuchel, J. I. Vandenberg, J. Biol. Chem. 2009, 284, 1000-1008). We expect the modeled structure to be useful as a basis both for computational studies of channel function and kinetics as well as the design of experiments.
Docking of small molecule compounds into the binding site of a receptor and estimating the binding affinity of the complex is an important part of the structure-based drug design process. For a thorough understanding of the structural principles that determine the strength of a protein/ligand complex both, an accurate and fast docking protocol and the ability to visualize binding geometries and interactions are mandatory. Here we present an interface between the popular molecular graphics system PyMOL and the molecular docking suites Autodock and Vina and demonstrate how the combination of docking and visualization can aid structure-based drug design efforts.
Thermal stability of proteins is crucial for both biotechnological and therapeutic applications. Rational protein engineering therefore frequently aims at increasing thermal stability by introducing stabilizing mutations. The accurate prediction of the thermodynamic consequences caused by mutations, however, is highly challenging as thermal stability changes are caused by alterations in the free energy of folding. Growing computational power, however, increasingly allows us to use alchemical free energy simulations, such as free energy perturbation or thermodynamic integration, to calculate free energy differences with relatively high accuracy. In this article, we present an automated protocol for setting up alchemical free energy calculations for mutations of naturally occurring amino acids (except for proline) that allows an unprecedented, automated screening of large mutant libraries. To validate the developed protocol, we calculated thermodynamic stability differences for 109 mutations in the microbial Ribonuclease Barnase. The obtained quantitative agreement with experimental data illustrates the potential of the approach in protein engineering and design.
We present molecular dynamics simulations of unliganded human hemoglobin (Hb) A under physiological conditions, starting from the R, R2, and T state. The simulations were carried out with protonated and deprotonated HC3 histidines His(beta)146, and they sum up to a total length of 5.6 micros. We observe spontaneous and reproducible T-->R quaternary transitions of the Hb tetramer and tertiary transitions of the alpha and beta subunits, as detected from principal component projections, from an RMSD measure, and from rigid body rotation analysis. The simulations reveal a marked asymmetry between the alpha and beta subunits. Using the mutual information as correlation measure, we find that the beta subunits are substantially more strongly linked to the quaternary transition than the alpha subunits. In addition, the tertiary populations of the alpha and beta subunits differ substantially, with the beta subunits showing a tendency towards R, and the alpha subunits showing a tendency towards T. Based on the simulation results, we present a transition pathway for coupled quaternary and tertiary transitions between the R and T conformations of Hb.
Biological function of proteins is frequently associated with the formation of complexes with small-molecule ligands. Experimental structure determination of such complexes at atomic resolution, however, can be time-consuming and costly. Computational methods for structure prediction of protein/ligand complexes, particularly docking, are as yet restricted by their limited consideration of receptor flexibility, rendering them not applicable for predicting protein/ligand complexes if large conformational changes of the receptor upon ligand binding are involved. Accurate receptor models in the ligand-bound state (holo structures), however, are a prerequisite for successful structure-based drug design. Hence, if only an unbound (apo) structure is available distinct from the ligand-bound conformation, structure-based drug design is severely limited. We present a method to predict the structure of protein/ligand complexes based solely on the apo structure, the ligand and the radius of gyration of the holo structure. The method is applied to ten cases in which proteins undergo structural rearrangements of up to 7.1 A backbone RMSD upon ligand binding. In all cases, receptor models within 1.6 A backbone RMSD to the target were predicted and close-to-native ligand binding poses were obtained for 8 of 10 cases in the top-ranked complex models. A protocol is presented that is expected to enable structure modeling of protein/ligand complexes and structure-based drug design for cases where crystal structures of ligand-bound conformations are not available.
Hyaluronan lyase (Hyal) is a surface enzyme occurring in many bacterial organisms including members of Streptococcus species. Streptococcal Hyal primarily degrades hyaluronan-substrate (HA) of the extracellular matrix. This degradation appears to facilitate the spread of this bacterium throughout host tissues. Unlike purely endolytic degradation of its other substrates, unsulfated chondroitin or some chondroitin sulfates, the degradation of HA by Hyal proceeds by processive exolytic cleavage of one disaccharide at a time following an initial endolytic cut. Molecular dynamics (MD) studies of Hyal from Streptococcus pneumoniae are presented that address the enzymes molecular mechanism of action and the role of domain motions for processive functionality. The analysis of extensive sub-microsecond MD simulations of this enzyme action on HA-substrates of different lengths and the connection between the domain dynamics of Hyal and the translocation of the HA-substrate reveals that opening/closing and twisting domain motions of the Hyal are intimately linked to processive HA degradation. Enforced simulations confirmed this finding as the domain motions in SpnHyal were found to be induced by enforced substrate translocation. These results establish the dynamic interplay between Hyal flexibility and substrate translocation and provide insight into the processive mechanism of Hyal.
Conformational flexibility of bioactive molecules poses a major challenge to computational biology. tCONCOORD generates structure ensembles based on geometrical considerations and has been successfully applied to predict protein conformational flexibility and essential degrees of freedom. We have now developed a graphical user interface (GUI) for tCONCOORD, which substantially facilitates the simulation setup and provides valuable insights into the structure analysis and constraint definition process in tCONCOORD. Moreover, users can influence the constraint definition process by interactively turning interactions on and off, defining completely rigid or flexible regions, or by applying artifical constraints that cause a biased sampling of the conformational space. This interface offers a versatile environment not only for the setup and analysis of tCONCOORD simulations, but also for molecular modeling and structure analysis in general. Both tCONCOORD* and the tCONCOORD-GUI(dagger) are distributed freely.
Water molecules doing time: Atomic-resolution crystal structures of the PPIase domain of cyclophilin G, alone and in complex with cyclosporin A, and together with MD simulations and calorimetry, reveal how trapped water molecules influence the thermodynamic profile of a protein-ligand interaction.
Aquaporins are transmembrane proteins that facilitate the flow of water through cellular membranes. An unusual characteristic of yeast aquaporins is that they frequently contain an extended N terminus of unknown function. Here we present the X-ray structure of the yeast aquaporin Aqy1 from Pichia pastoris at 1.15 A resolution. Our crystal structure reveals that the water channel is closed by the N terminus, which arranges as a tightly wound helical bundle, with Tyr31 forming H-bond interactions to a water molecule within the pore and thereby occluding the channel entrance. Nevertheless, functional assays show that Aqy1 has appreciable water transport activity that aids survival during rapid freezing of P. pastoris. These findings establish that Aqy1 is a gated water channel. Mutational studies in combination with molecular dynamics simulations imply that gating may be regulated by a combination of phosphorylation and mechanosensitivity.
Proteins frequently accomplish their biological function by collective atomic motions. Yet the identification of collective motions related to a specific protein function from, e.g., a molecular dynamics trajectory is often non-trivial. Here, we propose a novel technique termed "functional mode analysis" that aims to detect the collective motion that is directly related to a particular protein function. Based on an ensemble of structures, together with an arbitrary "functional quantity" that quantifies the functional state of the protein, the technique detects the collective motion that is maximally correlated to the functional quantity. The functional quantity could, e.g., correspond to a geometric, electrostatic, or chemical observable, or any other variable that is relevant to the function of the protein. In addition, the motion that displays the largest likelihood to induce a substantial change in the functional quantity is estimated from the given protein ensemble. Two different correlation measures are applied: first, the Pearson correlation coefficient that measures linear correlation only; and second, the mutual information that can assess any kind of interdependence. Detecting the maximally correlated motion allows one to derive a model for the functional state in terms of a single collective coordinate. The new approach is illustrated using a number of biomolecules, including a polyalanine-helix, T4 lysozyme, Trp-cage, and leucine-binding protein.
We present a systematic study directed toward the secondary structure propensity and sampling behavior in peptide folding simulations with eight different molecular dynamics force-field variants in explicit solvent. We report on the combinational result of force field, water model, and electrostatic interaction schemes and compare to available experimental characterization of five studied model peptides in terms of reproduced structure and dynamics. The total simulation time exceeded 18 mus and included simulations that started from both folded and extended conformations. Despite remaining sampling issues, a number of distinct trends in the folding behavior of the peptides emerged. Pronounced differences in the propensity of finding prominent secondary structure motifs in the different applied force fields suggest that problems point in particular to the balance of the relative stabilities of helical and extended conformations.
Aquaporins (AQPs) are a family of integral membrane proteins, which facilitate the rapid and yet highly selective flux of water and other small solutes across biological membranes. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations contributed substantially to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this remarkable efficiency and selectivity of aquaporin channels. This chapter reviews the current state of MD simulations of aquaporins and related aquaglyceroporins as well as the insights these simulations have provided. The mechanism of water permeation through AQPs and methods to determine channel permeabilities from simulations are described. Protons are strictly excluded from AQPs by a large electrostatic barrier and not by an interruption of the Grotthuss mechanism inside the pore. Both the proteins electric field and desolvation effects contribute to this barrier. Permeation of apolar gas molecules such as CO(2) through AQPs is accompanied by a large energetic barrier and thus can only be expected in membranes with a low intrinsic gas permeability. Additionally, the insights from simulations into the mechanism of glycerol permeation through the glycerol facilitator GlpF from E. coli are summarized. Finally, MD simulations are discussed that revealed that the aro-matic/arginine constriction region is generally the filter for uncharged solutes, and that AQP selectivity is controlled by a hydrophobic effect and steric restraints.
Naturally occurring pores show a variety of polarities and sizes that are presumably directly linked to their biological function. Many biological channels are selective toward permeants similar or smaller in size than water molecules, and therefore their pores operate in the regime of single-file water pores. Intrinsic factors affecting water permeability through such pores include the channel-membrane match, the structural stability of the channel, the channel geometry and channel-water affinity. We present an extensive molecular dynamics study on the role of the channel geometry and polarity on the water osmotic and diffusive permeability coefficients. We show that the polarity of the naturally occurring peptidic channels is close to optimal for water permeation, and that the water mobility for a wide range of channel polarities is essentially length independent. By systematically varying the geometry and polarity of model hydrophilic pores, based on the fold of gramicidin A, the water density, occupancy, and permeability are studied. Our focus is on the characterization of the transition between different permeation regimes in terms of the structure of water in the pores, the average pore occupancy and the dynamics of the permeating water molecules. We show that a general relationship between osmotic and diffusive water permeability coefficients in the single-file regime accounts for the time averaged pore occupancy, and that the dynamics of the permeating water molecules through narrow non single file channels effectively behaves like independent single-file columns.
Human aquaporin-1 (hAQP1) is a water channel found in many tissues and potentially involved in several human pathologies. Selective inhibitors of hAQP1 are discussed as novel treatment opportunities for glaucoma, brain edema, inflammatory pain, and certain types of cancer. However, only very few potent and chemically attractive blockers have been reported to date. In this study we present three novel hAQP1 blockers that have been identified by virtual screening and inhibit water flux through hAQP1 in Xenopus laevis oocyte swelling assays at low micromolar concentrations. The newly discovered compounds display no chemical similarity to hitherto known hAQP1 blockers and bind at the extracellular entrance of the channel, close to the ar/R selectivity filter. Furthermore, mutagenesis studies showed that Lys36, which is not conserved among the hAQP family, is crucially involved in binding and renders the discovered compounds suitable as leads for the development of selective hAQP1 inhibitors.
Water permeability through single-file channels is affected by intrinsic factors such as their size and polarity and by external determinants like their lipid environment in the membrane. Previous computational studies revealed that the obstruction of the channel by lipid headgroups can be long-lived, in the range of nanoseconds, and that pore-length-matching membrane mimetics could speed up water permeability. To test the hypothesis of lipid-channel interactions modulating channel permeability, we designed different gramicidin A derivatives with attached acyl chains. By combining extensive molecular-dynamics simulations and single-channel water permeation measurements, we show that by tuning lipid-channel interactions, these modifications reduce the presence of lipid headgroups in the pore, which leads to a clear and selective increase in their water permeability.
Protein-protein interactions play an important role in all biological processes. However, the principles underlying these interactions are only beginning to be understood. Ubiquitin is a small signalling protein that is covalently attached to different proteins to mark them for degradation, regulate transport and other functions. As such, it interacts with and is recognised by a multitude of other proteins. We have conducted molecular dynamics simulations of ubiquitin in complex with 11 different binding partners on a microsecond timescale and compared them with ensembles of unbound ubiquitin to investigate the principles of their interaction and determine the influence of complex formation on the dynamic properties of this protein. Along the main mode of fluctuation of ubiquitin, binding in most cases reduces the conformational space available to ubiquitin to a subspace of that covered by unbound ubiquitin. This behaviour can be well explained using the model of conformational selection. For lower amplitude collective modes, a spectrum of zero to almost complete coverage of bound by unbound ensembles was observed. The significant differences between bound and unbound structures are exclusively situated at the binding interface. Overall, the findings correspond neither to a complete conformational selection nor induced fit scenario. Instead, we introduce a model of conformational restriction, extension and shift, which describes the full range of observed effects.
We introduce an approach based on the recently introduced functional mode analysis to identify collective modes of internal dynamics that maximally correlate to an external order parameter of functional interest. Input structural data can be either experimentally determined structure ensembles or simulated ensembles, such as molecular dynamics trajectories. Partial least-squares regression is shown to yield a robust solution to the multidimensional optimization problem, with a minimal and controllable risk of overfitting, as shown by extensive cross-validation. Several examples illustrate that the partial least-squares-based functional mode analysis successfully reveals the collective dynamics underlying the fluctuations in selected functional order parameters. Applications to T4 lysozyme, the Trp-cage, the aquaporin channels Aqy1 and hAQP1, and the CLC-ec1 chloride antiporter are presented in which the active site geometry, the hydrophobic solvent-accessible surface, channel gating dynamics, water permeability (p(f)), and a dihedral angle are defined as functional order parameters. The Aqy1 case reveals a gating mechanism that connects the inner channel gating residues with the protein surface, thereby providing an explanation of how the membrane may affect the channel. hAQP1 shows how the p(f) correlates with structural changes around the aromatic/arginine region of the pore. The CLC-ec1 application shows how local motions of the gating Glu(148) couple to a collective motion that affects ion affinity in the pore.
K(+) channels control transmembrane action potentials by gating open or closed in response to external stimuli. Inactivation gating, involving a conformational change at the K(+) selectivity filter, has recently been recognized as a major K(+) channel regulatory mechanism. In the K(+) channel hERG, inactivation controls the length of the human cardiac action potential. Mutations impairing hERG inactivation cause life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia, which also occur as undesired side effects of drugs. In this paper, we report atomistic molecular dynamics simulations, complemented by mutational and electrophysiological studies, which suggest that the selectivity filter adopts a collapsed conformation in the inactivated state of hERG. The selectivity filter is gated by an intricate hydrogen bond network around residues S620 and N629. Mutations of this hydrogen bond network are shown to cause inactivation deficiency in electrophysiological measurements. In addition, drug-related conformational changes around the central cavity and pore helix provide a functional mechanism for newly discovered hERG activators.
The voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) is the major protein in the outer mitochondrial membrane, where it mediates transport of ATP and ADP. Changes in its permeability, induced by voltage or apoptosis-related proteins, have been implicated in apoptotic pathways. The three-dimensional structure of VDAC has recently been determined as a 19-stranded ?-barrel with an in-lying N-terminal helix. However, its gating mechanism is still unclear. Using solid-state NMR spectroscopy, molecular dynamics simulations, and electrophysiology, we show that deletion of the rigid N-terminal helix sharply increases overall motion in VDACs ?-barrel, resulting in elliptic, semicollapsed barrel shapes. These states quantitatively reproduce conductance and selectivity of the closed VDAC conformation. Mutation of the N-terminal helix leads to a phenotype intermediate to the open and closed states. These data suggest that the N-terminal helix controls entry into elliptic ?-barrel states which underlie VDAC closure. Our results also indicate that ?-barrel channels are intrinsically flexible.
Lipid-protein interactions play pivotal roles in biological membranes. Electron crystallographic studies of the lens-specific water channel aquaporin-0 (AQP0) revealed atomistic views of such interactions, by providing high-resolution structures of annular lipids surrounding AQP0. It remained unclear, however, whether these lipid structures are representative of the positions of unconstrained lipids surrounding an individual protein, and what molecular determinants define the lipid positions around AQP0. We addressed these questions by using molecular dynamics simulations and crystallographic refinement, and calculated time-averaged densities of dimyristoyl-phosphatidylcholine lipids around AQP0. Our simulations demonstrate that, although the experimentally determined crystallographic lipid positions are constrained by the crystal packing, they appropriately describe the behavior of unconstrained lipids around an individual AQP0 tetramer, and thus likely represent physiologically relevant lipid positions.While the acyl chains were well localized, the lipid head groups were not. Furthermore, in silico mutations showed that electrostatic interactions do not play a major role attracting these phospholipids towards AQP0. Instead, the mobility of the protein crucially modulates the lipid localization and explains the difference in lipid density between extracellular and cytoplasmic leaflets. Moreover, our simulations support a general mechanism in which membrane proteins laterally diffuse accompanied by several layers of localized lipids, with the positions of the annular lipids being influenced the most by the protein surface. We conclude that the acyl chains rather than the head groups define the positions of dimyristoyl-phosphatidylcholine lipids around AQP0. Lipid localization is largely determined by the mobility of the protein surface, whereas hydrogen bonds play an important but secondary role.
Two voltage-dependent potassium channels, Kv1.1 (KCNA1) and Kv1.2 (KCNA2), are found to co-localize at the juxtaparanodal region of axons throughout the nervous system and are known to co-assemble in heteromultimeric channels, most likely in the form of the concatemer Kv1.1-1.2((3)) . Loss of the myelin sheath, as is observed in multiple sclerosis, uncovers the juxtaparanodal region of nodes of Ranvier in myelinated axons leading to potassium conductance, resulting in loss of nerve conduction. The selective blocking of these Kv channels is therefore a promising approach to restore nerve conduction and function. In the present study, we searched for novel inhibitors of Kv1.1-1.2((3)) by combining a virtual screening protocol and electrophysiological measurements on a concatemer Kv1.1-1.2((3)) stably expressed in Chinese hamster ovary K1 (CHO-K1) cells. The combined use of four popular virtual screening approaches (eHiTS, FlexX, Glide, and Autodock-Vina) led to the identification of several compounds as potential inhibitors of the Kv1.1-1.2((3)) channel. From 89 electrophysiologically evaluated compounds, 14 novel compounds were found to inhibit the current carried by Kv1.1-1.2((3)) channels by more than 80 % at 10 ?M. Accordingly, the IC(50) values calculated from concentration-response curve titrations ranged from 0.6 to 6 ?M. Two of these compounds exhibited at least 30-fold higher potency in inhibition of Kv1.1-1.2((3)) than they showed in inhibition of a set of cardiac ion channels (hERG, Nav1.5, and Cav1.2), resulting in a profile of selectivity and cardiac safety. The results presented herein provide a promising basis for the development of novel selective ion channel inhibitors, with a dramatically lower demand in terms of experimental time, effort, and cost than a sole high-throughput screening approach of large compound libraries.
Understanding the structural and energetic requirements of non-fibrillar oligomer formation harbors the potential to decipher an important yet still elusive part of amyloidogenic peptide and protein aggregation. Low-molecular-weight oligomers are described to be transient and polymorphic intermediates in the nucleated self-assembly process to highly ordered amyloid fibers and were additionally found to exhibit a profound cytotoxicity. However, detailed structural information on the oligomeric species involved in the nucleation cannot be readily inferred from experiments. Here, we study the spontaneous assembly of steric zipper peptides from the tau protein, insulin and ?-synuclein with atomistic molecular dynamics simulations on the microsecond timescale. Detailed analysis of the forces driving the oligomerization reveals a common two-step process akin to a general condensation-ordering mechanism and thus provides a rational understanding of the molecular basis of peptide self-assembly. Our results suggest that the initial formation of partially ordered peptide oligomers is governed by the solvation free energy, whereas the dynamical ordering and emergence of ?-sheets are mainly driven by optimized inter-peptide interactions in the collapsed state. A novel mapping technique based on collective coordinates is employed to highlight similarities and differences in the conformational ensemble of small oligomer structures. Elucidating the dynamical and polymorphic ?-sheet oligomer conformations at atomistic detail furthermore suggests complementary sheet packing characteristics similar to steric zipper structures, but with a larger heterogeneity in the strand alignment pattern and sheet-to-sheet arrangements compared to the cross-? motif found in the fibrillar or crystalline states.
A molecular dynamics algorithm in principal component space is presented. It is demonstrated that sampling can be improved without changing the ensemble by assigning masses to the principal components proportional to the inverse square root of the eigenvalues. The setup of the simulation requires no prior knowledge of the system; a short initial MD simulation to extract the eigenvectors and eigenvalues suffices. Independent measures indicated a 6-7 times faster sampling compared to a regular molecular dynamics simulation.
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