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Biophys J. 1996 Jul;71(1):19-39.

Structure and dynamics of a proton wire: a theoretical study of H+ translocation along the single-file water chain in the gramicidin A channel.

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  • 1Departement de Physique, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.


The rapid translocation of H+ along a chain of hydrogen-bonded water molecules, or proton wire, is thought to be an important mechanism for proton permeation through transmembrane channels. Computer simulations are used to study the properties of the proton wire formed by the single-file waters in the gramicidin A channel. The model includes the polypeptidic dimer, with 22 water molecules and one excess proton. The dissociation of the water molecules is taken into account by the "polarization model" of Stillinger and co-workers. The importance of quantum effects due to the light mass of the hydrogen nuclei is examined with the use of discretized Feynman path integral molecular dynamics simulations. Results show that the presence of an excess proton in the pore orients the single-file water molecules and affects the geometry of water-water hydrogen bonding interactions. Rather than a well-defined hydronium ion OH3+ in the single-file region, the protonated species is characterized by a strong hydrogen bond resembling that of O2H5+. The quantum dispersion of protons has a small but significant effect on the equilibrium structure of the hydrogen-bonded water chain. During classical trajectories, proton transfer between consecutive water molecules is a very fast spontaneous process that takes place in the subpicosecond time scale. The translocation along extended regions of the chain takes place neither via a totally concerted mechanism in which the donor-acceptor pattern would flip over the entire chain in a single step, nor via a succession of incoherent hops between well-defined intermediates. Rather, proton transfer in the wire is a semicollective process that results from the subtle interplay of rapid hydrogen-bond length fluctuations along the water chain. These rapid structural fluctuations of the protonated single file of waters around an average position and the slow movements of the average position of the excess proton along the channel axis occur on two very different time scales. Ultimately, it is the slow reorganization of hydrogen bonds between single-file water molecules and channel backbone carbonyl groups that, by affecting the connectivity and the dynamics of the single-file water chain, also limits the translocation of the proton across the pore.

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