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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(2):e1002394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002394. Epub 2012 Feb 16.

The role of conserved waters in conformational transitions of Q61H K-ras.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas, United States of America.


To investigate the stability and functional role of long-residence water molecules in the Q61H variant of the signaling protein K-ras, we analyzed all available Ras crystal structures and conformers derived from a series of independent explicit solvent molecular dynamics (MD) simulations totaling 1.76 µs. We show that the protein samples a different region of phase space in the presence and absence of several crystallographically conserved and buried water molecules. The dynamics of these waters is coupled with the local as well as the global motions of the protein, in contrast to less buried waters whose exchange with bulk is only loosely coupled with the motion of loops in their vicinity. Aided by two novel reaction coordinates involving the distance (d) between the C(α) atoms of G60 at switch 2 and G10 at the P-loop and the N-C(α)-C-O dihedral (ξ) of G60, we further show that three water molecules located in lobe1, at the interface between the lobes and at lobe2, are involved in the relative motion of residues at the two lobes of Q61H K-ras. Moreover, a d/ξ plot classifies the available Ras x-ray structures and MD-derived K-ras conformers into active GTP-, intermediate GTP-, inactive GDP-bound, and nucleotide-free conformational states. The population of these states and the transition between them is modulated by water-mediated correlated motions involving the functionally critical switch 2, P-loop and helix 3. These results suggest that water molecules act as allosteric ligands to induce a population shift among distinct switch 2 conformations that differ in effector recognition.

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