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SecY shown with a small polypeptide passing through its pore ring.

image size: 40.4KB
made with VMD

Anyone who has attempted to fit a long piece of thread through a needle's eye realizes how difficult fitting something so small and flexible into such a small hole can be. Yet this action is carried out every second in every living cell. Flexible polypeptides, proteins, often have to cross a cellular membrane to get to their correct location, whether that location is an organelle within the cell or even outside of it. To accomplish this, they are pushed through a protein pore in an unfolded conformation much like a long string. The channel that accepts the string-like proteins, the protein translocon, allows only certain proteins to pass, while restricting access to molecules even much smaller than the macromolecular proteins. As reported in a recent publication, computer simulations using the molecular dynamics program NAMD helped to answer the question of how such a small channel could achieve this feat, demonstrating how the channel itself can be flexible yet resilient during a protein-crossing event and also elucidating in part how it can maintain such tight control over what is permitted to cross. For more information, see our Protein Translocation website.