Hydrophobins are small proteins produced by filamentous fungi that have a variety of biological functions including coating of spores and surface adhesion. To accomplish these functions, they rely on unique interface-binding properties. Using atomic-detail implicit solvent rigid-body Brownian dynamics simulations, we studied the diffusion of HFBI, a class II hydrophobin from Trichoderma reesei, in aqueous solution in the presence and absence of a graphite surface.
In the simulations, HFBI exists in solution as a mixture of monomers in equilibrium with different types of oligomers. The oligomerization state depends on the conformation of HFBI. When a Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) layer is present in the simulated system, HFBI tends to interact with the HOPG layer through a hydrophobic patch on the protein.
From the simulations of HFBI solutions, we identify a tetrameric encounter complex stabilized by non-polar interactions between the aliphatic residues in the hydrophobic patch on HFBI. After the formation of the encounter complex, a local structural rearrangement at the protein interfaces is required to obtain the tetrameric arrangement seen in HFBI crystals. Simulations performed with the graphite surface show that, due to a combination of a geometric hindrance and the interaction of the aliphatic sidechains with the graphite layer, HFBI proteins tend to accumulate close to the hydrophobic surface.