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We have designed a protocol combining constant-pH molecular dynamics (CpHMD) simulations with an umbrella sampling (US) scheme (US-CpHMD) to study the mechanism of ADP/ATP transport (import and export) by their inner mitochondrial membrane carrier protein [ADP/ATP carrier (AAC)]. The US scheme helped overcome the limitations of sampling the slow kinetics involved in these substrates' transport, while CpHMD simulations provided an unprecedented realism by correctly capturing the associated protonation changes. The import of anionic substrates along the mitochondrial membrane has a strong energetic disadvantage due to a smaller substrate concentration and an unfavorable membrane potential. These limitations may have created an evolutionary pressure on AAC to develop specific features benefiting the import of ADP. In our work, the potential of mean force profiles showed a clear selectivity in the import of ADP compared to ATP, while in the export, no selectivity was observed. We also observed that AAC sequestered both substrates at longer distances in the import compared to the export process. Furthermore, only in the import process do we observe transient protonation of both substrates when going through the AAC cavity, which is an important advantage to counteract the unfavorable mitochondrial membrane potential. Finally, we observed a substrate-induced disruption of the matrix salt-bridge network, which can promote the conformational transition (from the C- to M-state) required to complete the import process. This work unraveled several important structural features where the complex electrostatic interactions were pivotal to interpreting the protein function and illustrated the potential of applying the US-CpHMD protocol to other transport processes involving membrane proteins.


Nuno F B Oliveira, Miguel Machuqueiro. Novel US-CpHMD Protocol to Study the Protonation-Dependent Mechanism of the ATP/ADP Carrier. Journal of chemical information and modeling. 2022 May 23;62(10):2550-2560

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PMID: 35442654

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