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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Oct 18;102(42):15059-64. Epub 2005 Oct 10.

Interface connections of a transmembrane voltage sensor.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics and Program in Macromolecular Structure, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-4560, USA.


Voltage-sensitive ion channels open and close in response to changes in transmembrane (TM) potential caused by the motion of the S4 voltage sensors. These sensors are alpha-helices that include four or more positively charged amino acids, most commonly arginine. The so-called paddle model, based on the high-resolution structure of the KvAP K+ channel [Jiang, et al. (2003) Nature 423, 33-41], posits that the S4 sensors move within the membrane bilayer in response to TM voltage changes. Direct exposure of S4 sensors to lipid is contrary to the classical expectation that the dielectric contrast between the membrane hydrocarbon core and water presents an insurmountable energetic penalty to burial of electric charges. Nevertheless, recent experiments have shown that a helix with the sequence of KvAP S4 can be inserted across the endoplasmic reticulum membrane. To reconcile this result with the classical energetics argument, we have carried out a molecular dynamics simulation of an isolated TM S4 helix in a lipid bilayer. The simulation reveals a stabilizing hydrogen-bonded network of water and lipid phosphates around the arginines that reduces the effective thickness of the bilayer hydrocarbon core to approximately 10 A in the vicinity of the helix. It suggests that bilayer phospholipids can adapt locally to strongly perturbing protein elements, causing the phospholipids to become a structural extension of the protein.

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