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Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) form gateways for material transfer across the nuclear envelope of eukaryotic cells. Disordered proteins, rich in phenylalanine-glycine repeat motifs (FG-nups), form the central transport channel. Understanding how nups are arranged in the interior of the NPC may explain how NPC functions as a selectivity filter for transport of large molecules and a sieve-like filter for diffusion of small molecules (<9 nm or 40 kDa). We employed molecular dynamics to model the structures formed by various assemblies of one kind of nup, namely the 609-aa-long FG domain of Nsp1 (Nsp1-FG). The simulations started from different initial conformations and geometrical arrangements of Nsp1-FGs. In all cases Nsp1-FGs collectively formed brush-like structures with bristles made of bundles of 2-27 nups, however, the bundles being cross-linked through single nups leaving one bundle and joining a nearby one. The degree of cross-linking varies with different initial nup conformations and arrangements. Structural analysis reveals that FG-repeats of the nups not only involve formation of bundle structures, but are abundantly present in cross-linking regions where the epitopes of FG-repeats are highly accessible. Large molecules that are assisted by transport factors (TFs) are selectively transported through NPC apparently by binding to FG-nups through populated FG-binding pockets on the TF surface. Therefore, our finding suggests that TFs bind concertedly to multiple FGs in cross-linking regions and break-up the bundles to create wide pores for themselves and their cargoes to pass. In addition, the cross-linking between Nsp1-FG bundles, arising from simulations, is found to set a molecular size limit of <9 nm (40 kDa) for passive diffusion of molecules. Our simulations suggest that the NPC central channel, near the periphery where tethering of nups is dominant, features brush-like moderately cross-linked bundles, but in the central region, where tethering loses its effect, features a sieve-like structure of bundles and frequent cross-links.


Ramya Gamini, Wei Han, John E Stone, Klaus Schulten. Assembly of Nsp1 nucleoporins provides insight into nuclear pore complex gating. PLoS computational biology. 2014 Mar;10(3):e1003488

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PMID: 24626154

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