Dynamics and Energetics of Permeation Through Aquaporins. What Do We Learn from Molecular Dynamics Simulations?


Aquaporins (AQPs) are a family of integral membrane proteins, which facilitate the rapid and yet highly selective flux of water and other small solutes across biological membranes. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations contributed substantially to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this remarkable efficiency and selectivity of aquaporin channels. This chapter reviews the current state of MD simulations of aquaporins and related aquaglyceroporins as well as the insights these simulations have provided. The mechanism of water permeation through AQPs and methods to determine channel permeabilities from simulations are described. Protons are strictly excluded from AQPs by a large electrostatic barrier and not by an interruption of the Grotthuss mechanism inside the pore. Both the protein’s electric field and desolvation effects contribute to this barrier. Permeation of apolar gas molecules such as CO$_2$ through AQPs is accompanied by a large energetic barrier and thus can only be expected in membranes with a low intrinsic gas permeability. Additionally, the insights from simulations into the mechanism of glycerol permeation through the glycerol facilitator GlpF from E. coli are summarized. Finally, MD simulations are discussed that revealed that the aro-matic/arginine constriction region is generally the filter for uncharged solutes, and that AQP selectivity is controlled by a hydrophobic effect and steric restraints.

Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, Aquaporins
Jochen Hub
Jochen Hub
Professor of Computational Biophysics