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Structure. 2007 Feb;15(2):235-44.

How does a voltage sensor interact with a lipid bilayer? Simulations of a potassium channel domain.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QU, United Kingdom.


The nature of voltage sensing by voltage-activated ion channels is a key problem in membrane protein structural biology. The way in which the voltage-sensor (VS) domain interacts with its membrane environment remains unclear. In particular, the known structures of Kv channels do not readily explain how a positively charged S4 helix is able to stably span a lipid bilayer. Extended (2 x 50 ns) molecular dynamics simulations of the high-resolution structure of the isolated VS domain from the archaebacterial potassium channel KvAP, embedded in zwitterionic and in anionic lipid bilayers, have been used to explore VS/lipid interactions at atomic resolution. The simulations reveal penetration of water into the center of the VS and bilayer. Furthermore, there is significant local deformation of the lipid bilayer by interactions between lipid phosphate groups and arginine side chains of S4. As a consequence of this, the electrostatic field is "focused" across the center of the bilayer.

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