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Experimental and computational studies have indicated that hydrophobicity plays a key role in driving the insertion of transmembrane alpha-helices into lipid bilayers. Molecular dynamics simulations allow exploration of the nature of the interactions of transmembrane alpha-helices with their lipid bilayer environment. In particular, coarse-grained simulations have considerable potential for studying many aspects of membrane proteins, ranging from their self-assembly to the relation between their structure and function. However, there is a need to evaluate the accuracy of coarse-grained estimates of the energetics of transmembrane helix insertion. Here, three levels of complexity of model system have been explored to enable such an evaluation. First, calculated free energies of partitioning of amino acid side chains between water and alkane yielded an excellent correlation with experiment. Second, free energy profiles for transfer of amino acid side chains along the normal to a phosphatidylcholine bilayer were in good agreement with experimental and atomistic simulation studies. Third, estimation of the free energy profile for transfer of an arginine residue, embedded within a hydrophobic alpha-helix, to the center of a lipid bilayer gave a barrier of approximately 15 kT. Hence, there is a substantial barrier to membrane insertion for charged amino acids, but the coarse-grained model still underestimates the corresponding free energy estimate (approximately 29 kT) from atomistic simulations (Dorairaj, S., and Allen, T. W. (2007) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104, 4943-4948). Coarse-grained simulations were then used to predict the free energy profile for transfer of a simple model transmembrane alpha-helix (WALP23) across a lipid bilayer. The results indicated that a transmembrane orientation was favored by about -70 kT.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





11321 - 11331


1,2-Dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, Amino Acids, Chlorides, Computer Simulation, Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions, Ions, Lipid Bilayers, Molecular Conformation, Protein Structure, Secondary, Sodium, Thermodynamics, Water