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Arginine in Membranes: The Connection Between Molecular Dynamics Simulations and Translocon-Mediated Insertion Experiments

  • Author(s): Schow, Eric V.
  • Freites, J. Alfredo
  • Cheng, Philip
  • Bernsel, Andreas
  • Heijne, Gunnar
  • White, Stephen H.
  • Tobias, Douglas J.
  • et al.
Abstract

Several laboratories have carried out molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of arginine interactions with lipid bilayers and found that the energetic cost of placing arginine in lipid bilayers is an order of magnitude greater than observed in molecular biology experiments in which Arg-containing transmembrane helices are inserted across the endoplasmic reticulum membrane by the Sec61 translocon. We attempt here to reconcile the results of the two approaches. We first present MD simulations of guanidinium groups alone in lipid bilayers, and then, to mimic the molecular biology experiments, we present simulations of hydrophobic helices containing single Arg residues at different positions along the helix. We discuss the simulation results in the context of molecular biology results and show that the energetic discrepancy is reduced, but not eliminated, by considering free energy differences between Arg at the interface and at the center of the model helices. The reduction occurs because Arg snorkeling to the interface prevents Arg from residing in the bilayer center where the energetic cost of desolvation is highest. We then show that the problem with MD simulations is that they measure water-to-bilayer free energies, whereas the molecular biology experiments measure the energetics of partitioning from translocon to bilayer, which raises the fundamental question of the relationship between water-to-bilayer and water-to-translocon partitioning. We present two thermodynamic scenarios as a foundation for reconciliation of the simulation and molecular biology results. The simplest scenario is that translocon-to-bilayer partitioning is independent of water-to-bilayer partitioning; there is no thermodynamic cycle connecting the two paths.

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