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p7 viroporin

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and movie2, 4.4MB

All living systems contain proteins whose job is to move ions across a lipid membrane. Even viruses encode ion transport proteins, which they need to complete their lifecycle and release themselves from infected cells. Such proteins, called viroporins, usually consist of small subunits of one or two helices that can self-assemble in a lipid bilayer into a pore-like structure. Although in some cases, the resulting structures resemble the well-ordered, selective ion channels in higher organisms, often they take on a more disordered character, forming pores with variable numbers of subunits, which adapt their structure and behavior to the environment in which they find themselves. This inherent flexibility and disorder makes it very difficult to produce high-resolution crystal structures of viroporins, which is unfortunate, since they could offer attractive drug targets for new antiviral therapies. Computational modelling and molecular dynamics simulations can help fill in the gaps in our structural knowledge of viroporins, and provide plausible 3-D models for visualization and drug design. In a recent publication, scientists published models of the p7 viroporin found in Hepatitis C virus. MD simulations of these models revealed that p7 can form stable pores with 4 to 7 subunits, with a bias towards 6 or 7 subunits, and that the p7 oligomers are highly flexible in adapting to different membrane thicknesses. These simulations also suggested that specific amino acids in certain places in the structure could play a role in controlling the ion permeability of p7. More details can be found on our p7 website.