How is a water-soluble globular protein able to spontaneously cross a cellular membrane? It is commonly accepted that it undergoes significant structural rearrangements on the lipid-water interface, thus acquiring membrane binding and penetration ability. In this study molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been used to explore large-scale conformational changes of the globular viscumin A chain in a complex environment – comprising urea and chloroform/methanol (CHCl3/MeOH) mixture. Being well-packed in aqueous solution, viscumin A undergoes global structural rearrangements in both organic media. In urea, the protein is “swelling” and gradually loses its long-distance contacts, thus resembling the “molten globule” state. In CHCl3/MeOH, viscumin A is in effect turned “inside out”. This is accompanied with strengthening of the secondary structure and surface exposure of hydrophobic epitopes originally buried inside the globule. Resulting solvent-adapted models were further subjected to Monte Carlo simulations with an implicit hydrophobic slab membrane. In contrast to only a few point surface contacts in water and two short regions with weak protein-lipid interactions in urea, MD-derived structures in CHCl3/MeOH reveal multiple determinants of membrane interaction. Consequently it is now possible to propose a specific pathway for the structural adaptation of viscumin A with respect to the cell membrane – a probable first step of its translocation into cytoplasmic targets.
Structure, dynamics, and functioning of hydrated lipid bilayers - model cell membranes - are governed by a thin balance of intermolecular interactions between constituents of these systems. Besides the hydrophobic effect, which determines the overall bilayer skeleton, important contribution is made by Hbonds between lipids, water, and ions. This determines crucial phenomena in cell membranes: dynamic clustering, hydration, fine tuning of microscopic physico-chemical properties, which permit fast adaptation of membranes to external agents (e.g., proteins). Characteristics of H-bonds (strength, spatial location, etc.) dramatically depend on local polarity properties of water-lipid environment. Here, we calculated free energies of H-bonded complexes between lipids and water in explicit solvents of different polarity (water, methanol, chloroform) mimicking membrane environment at different depth. The strongest H-bonds were observed in nonpolar environment, although the overall bilayer organization imposes serious limitations on the distribution of various types of H-bonds over hydrophobic/hydrophilic regions (corresponding to dielectric media with low and high permeability). This creates a delicate balance, which determines a unique H-bonding pattern for each particular lipid bilayer. This was confirmed via atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) of several hydrated lipid bilayers. Understanding of the factors regulating H-bonding propensities in such systems is indispensable for rational design of new membranelike materials with predefined properties. One example - an artificial lipid with engineered hydroxyl group - is studied via MD simulations. It is shown that such lipids can induce significant changes of key characteristics of model membranes. This opens new avenues in goal-oriented design of artificial membranes with engineered properties.
Atomistic aspects of the structural organization, dynamics, and functioning of hydrated lipid bilayers - model cell membranes - are primarily governed by the fine balance of intermolecular interactions between all constituents of these systems. Besides the hydrophobic effect, which shapes the overall skeleton of lipid membranes, very important contribution to their behavior is made by hydrogen bonds (H-bonds) between lipid head groups. The latter determine such crucial phenomena in cell membranes, like dynamic ultra-nanodomain organization, hydration, fine-tuning of microscopic physico-chemical properties that allow the membrane to adapt quickly when binding/insertion external agents (proteins, etc.) The characteristics of such H-bonds (strength, spatial localization, etc.) dramatically depend on the local polarity properties of the lipid-water environment. In this work, we calculated free energies of H-bonded complexes between typical donor (NH3+, NH, OH) and acceptor (C=O, OH, COO-, COOH) groups of lipids in vacuo and in a set of explicit solvents with dielectric constants (ε) from 1 to 78.3, which mimic membrane environment at different depth. This was done using Monte Carlo simulations and an assessment of the corresponding Potential of Mean Force profiles. The strongest H-bonded complexes were observed in the nonpolar environment and their strength increased sharply with decreasing ε below 17. When ε changed, the largest free energy gain (> 10.8 kcal/mol) was observed for pairs of acceptors C=O and O(H) with donor NH3+. The complexation of the same acceptors with NH-donor in this range of ε was rather less sensitive to the environmental polarity: by ~1.5 kcal/mol. Dielectric-dependent interactions of polar lipid groups with water were evaluated as well. The results explain the delicate balance that determines the unique pattern of H-bonds for a particular lipid bilayer. Understanding the factors that regulate the propensity to H-bonding in lipid bilayers provides a fundamental basis for the rational design of new membrane nano-objects with predefined properties.