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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Feb;1818(2):303-17. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2011.07.043. Epub 2011 Aug 5.

Coarse grained model for exploring voltage dependent ion channels.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1062, USA.


The relationship between the membrane voltage and the gating of voltage activated ion channels and other systems have been a problem of great current interest. Unfortunately, reliable molecular simulations of external voltage effects present a major challenge, since meaningful converging microscopic simulations are not yet available and macroscopic treatments involve major uncertainties in terms of the dielectric used and other key features. This work extends our coarse grained (CG) model to simulations of membrane/protein systems under external potential. Special attention is devoted to a consistent modeling of the effect of external potential due to the electrodes, emphasizing semimacroscopic description of the electrolytes in the solution regions between the membranes and the electrodes, as well as the coupling between the combined potential from the electrodes plus the electrolytes and the protein ionized groups. We also provide a clear connection to microscopic treatment of the electrolytes and thus can explore possible conceptual problems that are hard to resolve by other current approaches. For example, we obtain a clear description of the charge distribution in the entire electrolyte system, including near the electrodes in membrane/electrodes systems (where continuum models do not seem to provide the relevant results). Furthermore, the present treatment provides an insight on the distribution of the electrolyte charges before and after equilibration across the membrane, and thus on the nature of the gating charge. The different aspects of the model have been carefully validated by considering problems ranging for the simple Debye-Huckel, and the Gouy-Chapman models to the evaluation of the electrolyte distribution between two electrodes, as well as the effect of extending the simulation system by periodic replicas. Overall the clear connection to microscopic descriptions combined with the power of the CG modeling seems to offer a powerful tool for exploring the balance between the protein conformational energy and the interaction with the external potential in voltage activated channels. To illustrate these features we present a preliminary study of the gating charge in the voltage activated Kv1.2 channel, using the actual change in the electrolyte charge distribution rather than the conventional macroscopic estimate. We also discuss other special features of the model, which include the ability to capture the effect of changes in the protonation states of the protein residues during the close to open voltage induced transition. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Membrane protein structure and function.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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