A pinboard by
Zhi Wang

Research Assistant, University of Chicago


We study the mechanisms of proton transport through investigating the free energy profiles.

Proton transport (PT) in biological systems is of great importance due to its involvement with and coupling to many physiological processes, for example, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis. In spite of the significance, it is not approachable to establish the atomistic details of PT in proteins using experimental techniques due to its microscopic nature. Therefore, we aim to utilize computational simulations to discover the mechanism of PT to which further research, e.g. drug development, is related. Simulating proton transfer is very challenging, since it follows Grotthuss mechanism, which rationalizes the astonishingly high diffusing ability of proton and hydroxide ion in water. The Grotthuss mechanism is that, instead of moving the whole hydronium, proton transfer is completed through consecutive chemical bond breaking and reforming. Conventional computational method suffers from either the reactive nature of proton transport in water and in protein, or the unaffordable cost of computational resources. In contrast, multiscale reactive molecular dynamics (MS-RMD) developed by our group is a method that resolves the dilemma. Several successful examples of simulating proton transfer in biological systems with MS-RMD have been published. Equipped with MS-RMD method, I studied the mechanism though which the proton transport is affected by the transported anion in a ubiquitous antiporter, where anions and protons are transported in opposite directions. We have identified the indirect interaction between the transported ions at an atomistic scale through investigating free-energy profiles for PT under various conditions. The proton conductance calculated from the free-energy profile recaptures the experimental observation. Our results also indicate that water is energetically unfavorable in the transporting channel unless the excess proton is present. Further analyzing the free-energy profile, we conclude that most relevant to the proton transport is the water connectivity along the pathway, the latter of which is significantly dependent upon the property of the anion. The results we obtained suggest both how water environment and proton transport are mutually affected and how experimentalists should control the functionality of the antiporter.


Acid activation mechanism of the influenza A M2 proton channel

Abstract: The homotetrameric influenza A M2 channel (AM2) is an acid-activated proton channel responsible for the acidification of the influenza virus interior, an important step in the viral lifecycle. Four histidine residues (His37) in the center of the channel act as a pH sensor and proton selectivity filter. Despite intense study, the pH-dependent activation mechanism of the AM2 channel has to date not been completely understood at a molecular level. Herein we have used multiscale computer simulations to characterize (with explicit proton transport free energy profiles and their associated calculated conductances) the activation mechanism of AM2. All proton transfer steps involved in proton diffusion through the channel, including the protonation/deprotonation of His37, are explicitly considered using classical, quantum, and reactive molecular dynamics methods. The asymmetry of the proton transport free energy profile under high-pH conditions qualitatively explains the rectification behavior of AM2 (i.e., why the inward proton flux is allowed when the pH is low in viral exterior and high in viral interior, but outward proton flux is prohibited when the pH gradient is reversed). Also, in agreement with electrophysiological results, our simulations indicate that the C-terminal amphipathic helix does not significantly change the proton conduction mechanism in the AM2 transmembrane domain; the four transmembrane helices flanking the channel lumen alone seem to determine the proton conduction mechanism.

Pub.: 24 Oct '16, Pinned: 03 Jul '17

Computationally Efficient Multiscale Reactive Molecular Dynamics to Describe Amino Acid Deprotonation in Proteins.

Abstract: An important challenge in the simulation of biomolecular systems is a quantitative description of the protonation and deprotonation process of amino acid residues. Despite the seeming simplicity of adding or removing a positively charged hydrogen nucleus, simulating the actual protonation/deprotonation process is inherently difficult. It requires both the explicit treatment of the excess proton, including its charge defect delocalization and Grotthuss shuttling through inhomogeneous moieties (water and amino residues), and extensive sampling of coupled condensed phase motions. In a recent paper ( J. Chem. Theory Comput. 2014 , 10 , 2729 - 2737 ), a multiscale approach was developed to map high-level quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) data into a multiscale reactive molecular dynamics (MS-RMD) model in order to describe amino acid deprotonation in bulk water. In this article, we extend the fitting approach (called FitRMD) to create MS-RMD models for ionizable amino acids within proteins. The resulting models are shown to faithfully reproduce the free energy profiles of the reference QM/MM Hamiltonian for PT inside an example protein, the ClC-ec1 H(+)/Cl(-) antiporter. Moreover, we show that the resulting MS-RMD models are computationally efficient enough to then characterize more complex 2-dimensional free energy surfaces due to slow degrees of freedom such as water hydration of internal protein cavities that can be inherently coupled to the excess proton charge translocation. The FitRMD method is thus shown to be an effective way to map ab initio level accuracy into a much more computationally efficient reactive MD method in order to explicitly simulate and quantitatively describe amino acid protonation/deprotonation in proteins.

Pub.: 07 Jan '16, Pinned: 03 Jul '17

Multiscale Simulations Reveal Key Aspects of the Proton Transport Mechanism in the ClC-ec1 Antiporter.

Abstract: Multiscale reactive molecular dynamics simulations are used to study proton transport through the central region of ClC-ec1, a widely studied ClC transporter that enables the stoichiometric exchange of 2 Cl(-) ions for 1 proton (H(+)). It has long been known that both Cl(-) and proton transport occur through partially congruent pathways, and that their exchange is strictly coupled. However, the nature of this coupling and the mechanism of antiporting remain topics of debate. Here multiscale simulations have been used to characterize proton transport between E203 (Gluin) and E148 (Gluex), the internal and external intermediate proton binding sites, respectively. Free energy profiles are presented, explicitly accounting for the binding of Cl(-) along the central pathway, the dynamically coupled hydration changes of the central region, and conformational changes of Gluin and Gluex. We find that proton transport between Gluin and Gluex is possible in both the presence and absence of Cl(-) in the central binding site, although it is facilitated by the anion presence. These results support the notion that the requisite coupling between Cl(-) and proton transport occurs elsewhere (e.g., during proton uptake or release). In addition, proton transport is explored in the E203K mutant, which maintains proton permeation despite the substitution of a basic residue for Gluin. This collection of calculations provides for the first time, to our knowledge, a detailed picture of the proton transport mechanism in the central region of ClC-ec1 at a molecular level.

Pub.: 31 Mar '16, Pinned: 03 Jul '17

The Origin of Coupled Chloride and Proton Transport in a Cl-/H+ Antiporter.

Abstract: The ClC family of transmembrane proteins functions throughout nature to control the transport of Cl- ions across biological membranes. ClC-ec1 from Escherichia coli is an antiporter, coupling the transport of Cl- and H+ ions in opposite directions and driven by the concentration gradients of the ions. Despite keen interest in this protein, the molecular mechanism of the Cl-/H+ coupling has not been fully elucidated. Here, we have used multiscale simulation to help identify the essential mechanism of the Cl-/H+ coupling. We find that the highest barrier for proton transport (PT) from the intra- to extracellular solution is attributable to a chemical reaction-the deprotonation of glutamic acid 148 (E148). This barrier is significantly reduced by the binding of Cl- in the "central" site (Cl-cen), which displaces E148 and thereby facilitates its deprotonation. Conversely, in the absence of Cl-cen E148 favors the "down" conformation, which results in a much higher cumulative rotation and deprotonation barrier that effectively blocks PT to the extracellular solution. Thus, the rotation of E148 plays a critical role in defining the Cl-/H+ coupling. As a control, we have also simulated PT in the ClC-ec1 E148A mutant to further understand the role of this residue. Replacement with a non-protonatable residue greatly increases the free energy barrier for PT from E203 to the extracellular solution, explaining the experimental result that PT in E148A is blocked whether or not Cl-cen is present. The results presented here suggest both how a chemical reaction can control the rate of PT and also how it can provide a mechanism for a coupling of the two ion transport processes.

Pub.: 27 Oct '16, Pinned: 03 Jul '17

Understanding the essential proton-pumping kinetic gates and decoupling mutations in cytochrome c oxidase.

Abstract: Cytochrome c oxidase (CcO) catalyzes the reduction of oxygen to water and uses the released free energy to pump protons against the transmembrane proton gradient. To better understand the proton-pumping mechanism of the wild-type (WT) CcO, much attention has been given to the mutation of amino acid residues along the proton translocating D-channel that impair, and sometimes decouple, proton pumping from the chemical catalysis. Although their influence has been clearly demonstrated experimentally, the underlying molecular mechanisms of these mutants remain unknown. In this work, we report multiscale reactive molecular dynamics simulations that characterize the free-energy profiles of explicit proton transport through several important D-channel mutants. Our results elucidate the mechanisms by which proton pumping is impaired, thus revealing key kinetic gating features in CcO. In the N139T and N139C mutants, proton back leakage through the D-channel is kinetically favored over proton pumping due to the loss of a kinetic gate in the N139 region. In the N139L mutant, the bulky L139 side chain inhibits timely reprotonation of E286 through the D-channel, which impairs both proton pumping and the chemical reaction. In the S200V/S201V double mutant, the proton affinity of E286 is increased, which slows down both proton pumping and the chemical catalysis. This work thus not only provides insight into the decoupling mechanisms of CcO mutants, but also explains how kinetic gating in the D-channel is imperative to achieving high proton-pumping efficiency in the WT CcO.

Pub.: 26 May '17, Pinned: 29 Jun '17