In this paper we propose a nonlinear elasticity model of macromolecular conformational change (deformation) induced by electrostatic forces generated by an implicit solvation model. The Poisson-Boltzmann equation for the electrostatic potential is analyzed in a domain varying with the elastic deformation of molecules, and a new continuous model of the electrostatic forces is developed to ensure solvability of the nonlinear elasticity equations. We derive the estimates of electrostatic forces corresponding to four types of perturbations to an electrostatic potential field, and establish the existance of an equilibrium configuration using a fixed-point argument, under the assumption that the change in the ionic strength and charges due to the additional molecules causing the deformation are sufficiently small. The results are valid for elastic models with arbitrarily complex dielectric interfaces and cavities, and can be generalized to large elastic deformation caused by high ionic strength, large charges, and strong external fields by using continuation methods.
Macromolecular Conformational Change; Nonlinear Elasticity; Continuum Modeling; Poisson-Boltzmann equation; Electrostatic Force; Coupled System; Fixed Point
The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiological agent of Chagas’ disease, affects millions of individuals and continues to be an important global health concern. The poor efficacy and unfavorable side effects of current treatments necessitate novel therapeutics. Cruzain, the major cysteine protease of T. cruzi, is one potential novel target. Recent advances in a class of vinyl-sulfone inhibitors are encouraging; however, as most potential therapeutics fail in clinical trials and both disease progression and resistance call for combination therapy with several drugs, the identification of additional classes of inhibitory molecules is essential. Using an exhaustive virtual-screening and experimental-validation approach, we identify several additional small-molecule cruzain inhibitors. Further optimization of these chemical scaffolds could lead to the development of novel drugs useful in the treatment of Chagas’ disease.
cruzain; cruzipain; Chagas’ disease; Trypanosoma cruzi; computer-aided drug discovery; cysteine protease inhibitor
One common practice in drug discovery is to optimize known or suspected ligands in order to improve binding affinity. In performing these optimizations, it is useful to look at as many known inhibitors as possible for guidance. Medicinal chemists often seek to improve potency by altering certain chemical moieties of known/endogenous ligands while retaining those critical for binding. To our knowledge, no automated, ligand-based algorithm exists for systematically “swapping” the chemical moieties of known ligands in order to generate novel ligands with potentially improved potency. To address this need, we have created a novel algorithm called “LigMerge”. LigMerge identifies the maximum (largest) common substructure of two three-dimensional ligand models, superimposes these two substructures, and then systematically mixes and matches the distinct fragments attached to the common substructure at each common atom, thereby generating multiple compound models related to the known inhibitors that can be evaluated using computer docking prior to synthesis and experimental testing.
To demonstrate the utility of LigMerge, we identify compounds predicted to inhibit peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma, HIV reverse transcriptase, and dihydrofolate reductase with affinities higher than those of known ligands. We are hopeful that LigMerge will be a helpful tool for the drug-design community.
One common practice in drug discovery is to optimize known or suspected ligands in order to improve binding affinity. In performing these optimizations, it is useful to look at as many known inhibitors as possible for guidance. Medicinal chemists often seek to improve potency by altering certain chemical moieties of known/endogenous ligands while retaining those critical for binding. To our knowledge, no automated, ligand-based algorithm exists for systematically ‘swapping’ the chemical moieties of known ligands to generate novel ligands with potentially improved potency. To address this need, we have created a novel algorithm called ‘LigMerge’. LigMerge identifies the maximum (largest) common substructure of two three-dimensional ligand models, superimposes these two substructures, and then systematically mixes and matches the distinct fragments attached to the common substructure at each common atom, thereby generating multiple compound models related to the known inhibitors that can be evaluated using computer docking prior to synthesis and experimental testing. To demonstrate the utility of LigMerge, we identify compounds predicted to inhibit peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor gamma, HIV reverse transcriptase, and dihydrofolate reductase with affinities higher than those of known ligands. We hope that LigMerge will be a helpful tool for the drug design community.
biophysical chemistry; drug design; structure-based drug design
The highly pathogenic influenza strains H5N1 and H1N1 are currently treated with inhibitors of the viral surface protein neuraminidase (N1). Crystal structures of N1 indicate a conserved, high affinity calcium binding site located near the active site. The specific role of this calcium in the enzyme mechanism is unknown, though it has been shown to be important for enzymatic activity and thermostability. We report molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of calcium-bound and calcium-free N1 complexes with the inhibitor oseltamivir (marketed as the drug Tamiflu), independently using both the AMBER FF99SB and GROMOS96 force fields, to give structural insight into calcium stabilization of key framework residues. Y347, which demonstrates similar sampling patterns in the simulations of both force fields, is implicated as an important N1 residue that can “clamp” the ligand into a favorable binding pose. Free energy perturbation and thermodynamic integration calculations, using two different force fields, support the importance of Y347 and indicate a +3 to +5 kcal/mol change in the binding free energy of oseltamivir in the absence of calcium. With the important role of structure-based drug design for neuraminidase inhibitors and the growing literature on emerging strains and subtypes, inclusion of this calcium for active site stability is particularly crucial for computational efforts such as homology modeling, virtual screening, and free energy methods. Proteins 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
oseltamivir; thermodynamic integration; Bennett Acceptance Ratio; force field comparison; metal binding; molecular dynamics
We report altogether 3-μs molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of the antimicrobial peptide CM15 to systematically investigate its interaction with two model lipid bilayers, pure POPC and mixed POPG:POPC (1:2). Starting with either an α-helical or a random-coil conformation, CM15 is found to insert into both bilayers. Peptide-lipid interaction is stronger with the anionic POPG:POPC than the zwitterionic POPC, which is largely attributed to the electrostatic attraction between CM15 and the negatively charged POPG. Simulations initiated with CM15 as a random coil allowed us to study peptide folding at the lipid-water interface. Interestingly, CM15 folding appears to be faster in POPC than POPG:POPC, which may be explained by a lower activation energy barrier of structural rearrangement in the former system. Our data also suggest that compared with the random-coil conformation, CM15 in a pre-folded α-helix has significantly reduced interactions with the lipids, indicating that peptide initial structures may bias the simulation results considerably on the 100-ns timescale. The implications of this result should be considered when preparing and interpreting future AMP simulations.
We present a novel algorithm called CrystalDock that analyzes a molecular pocket of interest and identifies potential binding fragments. The program first identifies groups of pocket-lining receptor residues (i.e., microenvironments) and then searches for geometrically similar microenvironments present in publically available databases of ligand-bound experimental structures. Germane fragments from the crystallographic or NMR ligands are subsequently placed within the novel binding pocket. These positioned fragments can be linked together to produce ligands that are likely to be potent; alternatively, they can be joined to an inhibitor with a known or suspected binding pose to potentially improve binding affinity.
To demonstrate the utility of the algorithm, CrystalDock is used to analyze the principal binding pockets of influenza neuraminidase and Trypanosoma brucei RNA-editing ligands 1, validated drug targets in the fight against pandemic influenza and African sleeping sickness, respectively. In both cases, CrystalDock suggests modifications to known inhibitors that may improve binding affinity.
The transverse tubular system of rabbit ventricular myocytes consists of cell membrane invaginations (t-tubules) that are essential for efficient cardiac excitation-contraction coupling. In this study, we investigate how t-tubule micro-anatomy, L-type Ca2+ channel (LCC) clustering, and allosteric activation of Na+/Ca2+ exchanger by L-type Ca2+ current affects intracellular Ca2+ dynamics. Our model includes a realistic 3D geometry of a single t-tubule and its surrounding half-sarcomeres for rabbit ventricular myocytes. The effects of spatially distributed membrane ion-transporters (LCC, Na+/Ca2+ exchanger, sarcolemmal Ca2+ pump, and sarcolemmal Ca2+ leak), and stationary and mobile Ca2+ buffers (troponin C, ATP, calmodulin, and Fluo-3) are also considered. We used a coupled reaction-diffusion system to describe the spatio-temporal concentration profiles of free and buffered intracellular Ca2+. We obtained parameters from voltage-clamp protocols of L-type Ca2+ current and line-scan recordings of Ca2+ concentration profiles in rabbit cells, in which the sarcoplasmic reticulum is disabled. Our model results agree with experimental measurements of global Ca2+ transient in myocytes loaded with 50 μM Fluo-3. We found that local Ca2+ concentrations within the cytosol and sub-sarcolemma, as well as the local trigger fluxes of Ca2+ crossing the cell membrane, are sensitive to details of t-tubule micro-structure and membrane Ca2+ flux distribution. The model additionally predicts that local Ca2+ trigger fluxes are at least threefold to eightfold higher than the whole-cell Ca2+ trigger flux. We found also that the activation of allosteric Ca2+-binding sites on the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger could provide a mechanism for regulating global and local Ca2+ trigger fluxes in vivo. Our studies indicate that improved structural and functional models could improve our understanding of the contributions of L-type and Na+/Ca2+ exchanger fluxes to intracellular Ca2+ dynamics.
Ca2+ signaling; L-type Ca2+ channel; Na+/Ca2+ exchanger; channel clustering; allosteric regulation; t-tubule; rabbit ventricular myocyte
Protein synthesis on the ribosome involves a number of external protein factors that bind at its functional sites. One key factor is the elongation factor G (EF-G) that facilitates the translocation of tRNAs between their binding sites, as well as advancement of the messenger RNA by one codon. The details of the EF-G/ribosome diffusional encounter and EF-G association pathway still remain unanswered. Here, we applied Brownian dynamics methodology to study bimolecular association in the bacterial EF-G/70S ribosome system. We estimated the EF-G association rate constants at 150mM and 300mM monovalent ionic strengths and obtained reasonable agreement with kinetic experiments. We have also elucidated the details of EF-G/ribosome association paths and found that positioning of the L11 protein of the large ribosomal subunit is likely crucial for EF-G entry to its binding site.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are zinc-containing enzymes capable of degrading all components of the extracellular matrix. Due to their role in human disease, MMPs have been the subject of extensive study. A bioinorganic approach was recently used to identify novel inhibitors based on a maltol zinc-binding group, but accompanying molecular-docking studies failed to explain why one of these inhibitors, AM-6, had ~2500-fold selectivity for MMP-3 over MMP-2.
A number of studies have suggested that the MMP active site is highly flexible, leading some to speculate that differences in active-site flexibility may explain inhibitor selectivity. In order to extend the bioinorganic approach in a way that accounts for MMP-2 and MMP-3 dynamics, we here investigate the predicted binding modes and energies of AM-6 docked into multiple structures extracted from MMP MD simulations. Our findings suggest that accounting for protein dynamics is essential for the accurate prediction of binding affinity and selectivity. Additionally, AM-6 and other similar inhibitors likely select for and stabilize only a subpopulation of all MMP conformations sampled by the apo protein. Consequently, when attempting to predict ligand affinity and selectivity using an ensemble of protein structures, it may be wise to disregard protein conformations that cannot accommodate the ligand.
matrix metalloproteinases; inhibitors; computer-aided drug design; docking; protein flexibility
Molecular recognition plays a central role in biochemical processes. Although well studied, understanding the mechanisms of recognition is inherently difficult due to the range of potential interactions, the molecular rearrangement associated with binding, and the time and length scales involved. Computational methods have the potential for not only complementing experiments that have been performed, but also in guiding future ones through their predictive abilities. In this review, we discuss how molecular dynamics (MD) simulations may be used in advancing our understanding of the thermodynamics that drive biomolecular recognition. We begin with a brief review of the statistical mechanics that form a basis for these methods. This is followed by a description of some of the most commonly used methods: thermodynamic pathways employing alchemical transformations and potential of mean force calculations, along with end-point calculations for free energy differences, and harmonic and quasi-harmonic analysis for entropic calculations. Finally, a few of the fundamental findings that have resulted from these methods are discussed, such as the role of configurational entropy and solvent in intermolecular interactions, along with selected results of the model system T4 lysozyme to illustrate potential and current limitations of these methods.
The independent trajectory thermodynamic integration (IT-TI) approach (Lawrenz et. al J. Chem. Theory. Comput. 2009, 5:1106-11161) for free energy calculations with distributed computing is employed to study two distinct cases of protein-ligand binding: first, the influenza surface protein N1 neuraminidase bound to the inhibitor oseltamivir, and second, the M. tuberculosis enzyme RmlC complexed with the molecule CID 77074. For both systems, finite molecular dynamics (MD) sampling and varied molecular flexibility give rise to IT-TI free energy distributions that are remarkably centered on the target experimental values, with a spread directly related to protein, ligand, and solvent dynamics. Using over 2 μs of total MD simulation, alternative protocols for the practical, general implementation of IT-TI are investigated, including the optimal use of distributed computing, the total number of alchemical intermediates, and the procedure to perturb electrostatics and van der Waals interactions. A protocol that maximizes predictive power and computational efficiency is proposed. IT-TI outperforms traditional TI predictions and allows a straightforward evaluation of the reliability of free energy estimates. Our study has broad implications for the use of distributed computing in free energy calculations of macromolecular systems.
convergence; distributed computing; dTDP-6-deoxy-d-xylo-4-hexopyranosid-4-ulose 3,5-epimerase; hydration; Independent-Trajectory Thermodynamic Integration; microsecond molecular dynamics; neuraminidase; oseltamivir; protein-ligand binding; RmlC
The complex and highly impermeable cell wall of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is largely responsible for the ability of the mycobacterium to resist the action of chemical therapeutics. An L-rhamnosyl residue, which occupies an important anchoring position in the Mtb cell wall, is an attractive target for novel anti-tuberculosis drugs. In this work, we report a virtual screening (VS) study targeting Mtb dTDP-deoxy-L-lyxo-4-hexulose reductase (RmlD), the last enzyme in the L-rhamnosyl synthesis pathway. Through two rounds of VS, we have identified four RmlD inhibitors with half inhibitory concentrations of 0.9-25 μM, and whole-cell minimum inhibitory concentrations of 20-200 μg/ml. Compared with our previous high throughput screening targeting another enzyme involved in L-rhamnosyl synthesis, virtual screening produced higher hit rates, supporting the use of computational methods in future anti-tuberculosis drug discovery efforts.
A constant pH molecular dynamics method has been used in the blind prediction of pKa values of titratable residues in wild type and mutated structures of the Staphylococcal nuclease (SNase) protein. The predicted values have been subsequently compared to experimental values provided by the laboratory of García-Moreno. CpHMD performs well in predicting the pKa of solvent-exposed residues. For residues in the protein interior, the CpHMD method encounters some difficulties in reaching convergence and predicting the pKa values for residues having strong interactions with neighboring residues. These results show the need to accurately and sufficiently sample conformational space in order to obtain pKa values consistent with experimental results.
GABAA receptors (GABAARs) are ligand gated chloride ion channels that mediate overall inhibitory signaling in the CNS. A detailed understanding of their structure is important to gain insights in e.g. ligand binding and functional properties of this pharmaceutically important target. Homology modeling is a necessary tool in this regard because experimentally determined structures are lacking. Here we present an exhaustive approach for creating a high quality model of the α1β2γ2 subtype of the GABAAR ligand binding domain, and we demonstrate its usefulness in understanding details of orthosteric ligand binding.
The model was constructed by using multiple templates and by incorporation of knowledge from biochemical/pharmacological experiments. It was validated on the basis of objective energy functions, its ability to account for available residue specific information, and its stability in molecular dynamics (MD) compared to that of two homologous crystal structures. We then combined the model with extensive structure-activity relationships available from two homologous series of orthosteric GABAAR antagonists to create a detailed hypothesis for their binding modes. Excellent agreement with key experimental data was found, including the ability of the model to accommodate and explain a previously developed pharmacophore model. A coupling to agonist binding was thereby established and discussed in relation to activation mechanisms.
Our results highlight the importance of critical evaluation and optimization of each step in the homology modeling process. The approach taken here can greatly aid in increasing the understanding of GABAARs and related receptors where structural insight is limited and reliable models are difficult to obtain.
Homology modeling; spatial restraints; molecular dynamics; ligand docking; GRID analysis; 5-(4-piperidyl)-3-isoxazolol; 4-(4-piperidyl)-1-hydroxypyrazole; 4-PIOL; 4-PHP
In the current work, we present a hydrogen-bond analysis of 2,673 ligand-receptor complexes that suggests the total number of hydrogen bonds formed between a ligand and its protein receptor is a poor predictor of ligand potency; furthermore, even that poor prediction does not suggest a statistically significant correlation between hydrogen-bond formation and potency. While we are not the first to suggest that hydrogen bonds on average do not generally contribute to ligand binding affinities, this additional evidence is nevertheless interesting. The primary role of hydrogen bonds may instead be to ensure specificity, to correctly position the ligand within the active site, and to hold the protein active site in a ligand-friendly conformation.
We also present a new computer program called HBonanza (hydrogen-bond analyzer) that aids the analysis and visualization of hydrogen-bond networks. HBonanza, which can be used to analyze single structures or the many structures of a molecular dynamics trajectory, is open source and python implemented, making it easily editable, customizable, and platform independent. Unlike many other freely available hydrogen-bond analysis tools, HBonanza provides not only a text-based table describing the hydrogen-bond network, but also a Tcl script to facilitate visualization in VMD, a popular molecular visualization program. Visualization in other programs is also possible. A copy of HBonanza can be obtained free of charge from http://www.nbcr.net/hbonanza.
hydrogen bond; computational chemistry; molecular dynamics simulations; molecular recognition; computer-aided drug design
Academic researchers and many in industry often lack the financial resources available to scientists working in “big pharma.” High costs include those associated with high-throughput screening and chemical synthesis. In order to address these challenges, many researchers have in part turned to alternate methodologies. Virtual screening, for example, often substitutes for high-throughput screening, and click chemistry ensures that chemical synthesis is fast, cheap, and comparatively easy. Though both in silico screening and click chemistry seek to make drug discovery more feasible, it is not yet routine to couple these two methodologies. We here present a novel computer algorithm, called AutoClickChem, capable of performing many click-chemistry reactions in silico. AutoClickChem can be used to produce large combinatorial libraries of compound models for use in virtual screens. As the compounds of these libraries are constructed according to the reactions of click chemistry, they can be easily synthesized for subsequent testing in biochemical assays. Additionally, in silico modeling of click-chemistry products may prove useful in rational drug design and drug optimization. AutoClickChem is based on the pymolecule toolbox, a framework that may facilitate the development of future python-based programs that require the manipulation of molecular models. Both the pymolecule toolbox and AutoClickChem are released under the GNU General Public License version 3 and are available for download from http://autoclickchem.ucsd.edu.
The relaxed complex scheme, a virtual-screening methodology that accounts for protein receptor flexibility, was used to identify a low-micromolar, non-bisphosphonate inhibitor of farnesyl diphosphate synthase (FPPS). Serendipitously, we also found that several predicted FPPS inhibitors were low-micromolar inhibitors of undecaprenyl diphosphate synthase (UPPS). These results are of interest since FPPS inhibitors are being pursued as both anti-infective and anti-cancer agents, and UPPS inhibitors are anti-bacterial drug leads.
presqualene diphosphate; dehydrosqualene synthase; squalene synthase; isoprenoid biosynthesis; farnesyl diphosphate synthase; undecaprenyl diphosphate synthase; virtual screening; molecular dynamics
Protein kinases are essential signaling molecules with a characteristic bilobal shape that has been studied for over fifteen years. Despite the number of crystal structures available, little study has been directed away from the prototypical functional elements of the kinase domain. We have performed a structural alignment of thirteen active-conformation kinases and discovered the presence of six water molecules that occur in conserved locations across this group of diverse kinases. Molecular dynamics simulations demonstrated that these waters confer a great deal of stability to their local environment and to a key catalytic residue. Our results highlight the importance of novel elements within the greater kinase family and suggest that conserved water molecules are necessary for efficient kinase function.
free energy; hydrogen bonding; molecular dynamics; protein stability; structural alignment
A protein’s flexibility is well recognized to underlie its capacity to engage in critical functions, such as signal transduction, biomolecular transport and biochemical reactivity. Molecular recognition is also tightly linked to the dynamics of the binding partners, yet protein flexibility has largely been ignored by the growing field of structure-based drug design (SBDD). In combination with experimentally determined structures, a number of computational methods have been proposed to model protein movements, which may be important for small molecule binding. Such techniques have the ability to expose new binding site conformations, which may in turn recognize and lead to the discovery of more potent and selective drugs through molecular docking. In this article, we discuss various methods and focus on the Relaxed Complex Scheme (RCS), which uses Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations to model full protein flexibility and enhance virtual screening programmes. We review practical applications of the RCS and use a recent study of the HIV-1 reverse transcriptase to illustrate the various phases of the scheme. We also discuss some encouraging developments, aimed at addressing current weaknesses of the RCS.
In most eubacteria, apicomplexans, and most plants, including the causal agents for diseases such as malaria, leprosy and tuberculosis, the methylerythritol phosphate pathway is the route for the biosynthesis of the C5 precursors to the essential isoprenoid class of compounds. Owing to their absence in humans, the enzymes of the methylerythritol phosphate pathway have become attractive targets for drug discovery. This work investigates a new class of inhibitors against the second enzyme of the pathway, 1-Deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate reductoisomerase (MtDXR). Inhibition of this enzyme may involve the chelation of a crucial active site Mn ion, and the metal chelating moieties studied here have previously been shown to be successful in application to the zinc-dependent metalloproteinases. Quantum mechanics and docking calculations presented in this work suggest the transferability of these metal chelating compounds to Mn-containing MtDXR enzyme, as a promising starting point to the development of potent inhibitors.
Molecular dynamics (MD) is one of the most common tools in computational chemistry. Recently, our group has employed accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) to improve the conformational sampling over conventional molecular dynamics techniques. In the original aMD implementation, sampling is greatly improved by raising energy wells below a predefined energy level. Recently, our group presented an alternative aMD implementation where simulations are accelerated by lowering energy barriers of the potential energy surface. When coupled with thermodynamic integration simulations, this implementation showed very promising results. However, when applied to large systems, such as proteins, the simulation tends to be biased to high energy regions of the potential landscape. The reason for this behavior lies in the boost equation used since the highest energy barriers are dramatically more affected than the lower ones. To address this issue, in this work, we present a new boost equation that prevents oversampling of unfavorable high energy conformational states. The new boost potential provides not only better recovery of statistics throughout the simulation but also enhanced sampling of statistically relevant regions in explicit solvent MD simulations.
Accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) is an enhanced-sampling method that improves the conformational space sampling by reducing energy barriers separating different states of a system. Here we present the implementation of aMD in the parallel simulation program NAMD. We show that aMD simulations performed with NAMD have only a small overhead compared with classical MD simulations. Through example applications to the alanine dipeptide, we discuss the choice of acceleration parameters, the interpretation of aMD results, as well as the advantages and limitations of the aMD method.
Undecaprenyl pyrophosphate synthase (UPPS) is a cis-prenyltransferase enzyme, which is required for cell-wall biosynthesis in bacteria. UPPS is an attractive target for anti-microbial therapy. We performed long molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and docking studies on UPPS to investigate its dynamic behavior and the influence of protein flexibility on the design of UPPS inhibitors. We also describe the first x-ray crystallographic structure of E. coli apo-UPPS. The MD simulations indicate that UPPS is a highly flexible protein, with mobile binding pockets in the active site. By carrying out docking studies with experimentally validated UPPS inhibitors using high and low populated conformational states extracted from the MD simulations, we show that structurally dissimilar compounds can bind preferentially to different and rarely sampled conformational states. By performing structural analyses on the newly obtained apo-UPPS and other crystal structures previously published, we show that the changes observed during the MD simulation are very similar to those seen in the crystal structures obtained in the presence or absense of ligands. We believe that this is the first time that a rare “expanded pocket” state, a key to drug design and verified by crystallography, has been extracted from an MD simulation.
Undecaprenyl Pyrophosphate Synthase; UPPS; Bisphophonates; Molecular Dynamics; Docking; Active Conformations; Inhibitors; Computer Aided Drug Design
An electrostatic field rotates, slides, and guides the kinesin head to bind the microtubule at a site a short distance ahead, thus determining the direction of movement of the motor.
The minimum motor domain of kinesin-1 is a single head. Recent evidence suggests that such minimal motor domains generate force by a biased binding mechanism, in which they preferentially select binding sites on the microtubule that lie ahead in the progress direction of the motor. A specific molecular mechanism for biased binding has, however, so far been lacking. Here we use atomistic Brownian dynamics simulations combined with experimental mutagenesis to show that incoming kinesin heads undergo electrostatically guided diffusion-to-capture by microtubules, and that this produces directionally biased binding. Kinesin-1 heads are initially rotated by the electrostatic field so that their tubulin-binding sites face inwards, and then steered towards a plus-endwards binding site. In tethered kinesin dimers, this bias is amplified. A 3-residue sequence (RAK) in kinesin helix alpha-6 is predicted to be important for electrostatic guidance. Real-world mutagenesis of this sequence powerfully influences kinesin-driven microtubule sliding, with one mutant producing a 5-fold acceleration over wild type. We conclude that electrostatic interactions play an important role in the kinesin stepping mechanism, by biasing the diffusional association of kinesin with microtubules.
Animal and plant cells contain a molecular-scale “railway” network, in which the tracks, called microtubules, radiate out from the cell centre and locomotive proteins, called kinesins, haul their molecular cargoes along the microtubule tracks. This railway system transports many different cargoes to where they are needed, so it is crucial for the cell's organization and function. Breakdowns in this transport system can cause diseases like Alzheimer's, and drugs that temporarily halt transport make powerful anti-cancer agents. Precisely how kinesin motor proteins move along their microtubule tracks is an important question in biology. We know that some kinesins have twin “heads” that alternately bind to and step along microtubules in a coordinated walking action. But more usually, kinesins have only one head. How single-headed kinesins produce force and movement is poorly understood. In this study, we address this question and show that electrical attraction between single kinesin heads and microtubules is a critical factor deciding the direction of movement: each time the head approaches a microtubule, it slides forwards by the electrical attraction between the engine and the track.