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SecY lateral gate

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made with VMD

Everyone knows oil and water don't mix. Proteins observe this rule, too, some choosing to stay in the watery cytoplasm and others choosing the oily membrane. But getting into the membrane is not easy, and most newly formed proteins require another protein, the membrane-bound translocon, to help them insert into the membrane. The translocon, surprisingly also serves as a conduit for proteins across the membrane, thus carrying out a unique dual function. The structure of the translocon showed evidence of a likely "lateral gate", i.e., an exit from the channel into the membrane. How the channel opened to the membrane though, and how it closed afterwards, were not clear from the structure alone. Now, molecular dynamics simulations performed with NAMD, covered in a recent publication, have permitted researchers to understand how the channel opens laterally, how it closes, and how the oily lipids are prevented from invading the water-filled pore. Furthermore, the novel simulation technique, residue-based coarse graining, allowed the researchers to simulate the lipid-channel interactions for up to one microsecond, clearly illustrating that the lipids do not want to mix with the channel interior. More information on these results can be found on the Protein Translocation website.