Research Topics - Steered/Interactive Molecular Dynamics

Knowledge of the mechanism of association, dissociation and unfolding of macromolecules is important for many biological processes. Among the examples are the binding and dissociation of substrates of enzyme reactions, the recognition of ligands by their receptors or the elastic resopnse of mechanical proteins. In order to study such processes external forces can be applied reducing energy barriers and therefore increasing the probability of unlikely events on the time scale of molecular dynamics. This approach has the advantage that it corresponds closely to micromanipulation through atomic force microscopy or optical tweezers. The external force techniques can be applied to study many processes, including dissociation of avidin-biotin complex, dissociation of retinal from bacteriorhodopsin, stretching of titin, etc. The molecular dynamics program NAMD, developed in the group, is capable of performing several different kinds of SMD, including rotation or translation of one or more atoms. The group's molecular graphics program VMD provides a powerful means of visualizing these simulations, and through the Interactive Molecular Dynamics (IMD) interface can even allow SMD simulations to be performed in real time.

Spotlight - Lactose permease
Opening of Lacy'S cytoplasmic cavity

image size: 215.8KB
made with VMD

Escherichia coli are bacteria living in the intestines of mammals as part of their healthy gut flora, but also causing disease outside of the gut. The bacteria import from their environment nutriments, for example molecules of lactose, a sugar. For this purpose Escherichia coli employs in its cell membrane a protein channel, lactose permease, that translocates the sugar outside-in. This is the bacterium's "sweet tooth". To establish the unidirectional sugar transport, the bacterium utilizes an electrical potential maintained in the form of a trans-membrane proton gradient (more protons on the outer cellular than on the inner cellular side of the membrane). Protons, very small ions, that enter the channel from the outside one at a time, open the outer channel entrance. This permits access of lactose that gets bound inside the channel. Release of the proton to the cell interior closes the outer channel entrance and opens the inner channel entrance, such that the bound lactose can enter the cell. Despite extensive and elegant biochemical studies, the physical mechanism that couples unidirectional proton and sugar translocation is not yet known in detail. A crystallographic structure of lactose permease permitted now investigations into this mechanism by means of molecular dynamics simulations using NAMD. The simulations, reported in a recent publication, showed one step of the proton - sugar translocation, namely how binding and unbinding of the proton activates a spring-like bond, a so-called salt bridge, that closes and opens the inner channel exit. More information on the lactose permease project can be found here.

All Spotlights


Onset of anthrax toxin pore formation. Mu Gao and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 90:3267-3279, 2006.

What makes an aquaporin a glycerol channel: A comparative study of AqpZ and GlpF. Yi Wang, Klaus Schulten, and Emad Tajkhorshid. Structure, 13:1107-1118, 2005.

In search of the hair-cell gating spring: Elastic properties of ankyrin and cadherin repeats. Marcos Sotomayor, David P. Corey, and Klaus Schulten. Structure, 13:669-682, 2005.

Calculating potentials of mean force from steered molecular dynamics simulations. Sanghyun Park and Klaus Schulten. Journal of Chemical Physics, 120:5946-5961, 2004.

Insights into the molecular mechanism of rotation in the Fo sector of ATP synthase. Aleksij Aksimentiev, Ilya A. Balabin, Robert H. Fillingame, and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 86:1332-1344, 2004.

Mechanisms of selectivity in channels and enzymes studied with interactive molecular dynamics. Paul Grayson, Emad Tajkhorshid, and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 85:36-48, 2003.

Identifying unfolding intermediates of FN-III10 by steered molecular dynamics. Mu Gao, David Craig, Viola Vogel, and Klaus Schulten. Journal of Molecular Biology, 323:939-950, 2002.

Structural determinants of MscL gating studied by molecular dynamics simulations. Justin Gullingsrud, Dorina Kosztin, and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 80:2074-2081, 2001.

Unfolding of titin immunoglobulin domains by steered molecular dynamics simulation. Hui Lu, Barry Isralewitz, André Krammer, Viola Vogel, and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 75:662-671, 1998.

Molecular dynamics study of unbinding of the avidin-biotin complex. Sergei Izrailev, Sergey Stepaniants, Manel Balsera, Yoshi Oono, and Klaus Schulten. Biophysical Journal, 72:1568-1581, 1997.