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EphA1 is a receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) that plays a key role in developmental processes, including guidance of the migration of axons and cells in the nervous system. EphA1, in common with other RTKs, contains an N-terminal extracellular domain, a single transmembrane (TM) α-helix, and a C-terminal intracellular kinase domain. The TM helix forms a dimer, as seen in recent NMR studies. We have modeled the EphA1 TM dimer using a multiscale approach combining coarse-grain (CG) and atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. The one-dimensional potential of mean force (PMF) for this system, based on interhelix separation, has been calculated using CG MD simulations. This provides a view of the free energy landscape for helix-helix interactions of the TM dimer in a lipid bilayer. The resulting PMF profiles suggest two states, consistent with a rotation-coupled activation mechanism. The more stable state corresponds to a right-handed helix dimer interacting via an N-terminal glycine zipper motif, consistent with a recent NMR structure (2K1K). A second metastable state corresponds to a structure in which the glycine zipper motif is not involved. Analysis of unrestrained CG MD simulations based on representative models from the PMF calculations or on the NMR structure reveals possible pathways of interconversion between these two states, involving helix rotations about their long axes. This suggests that the interaction of TM helices in EphA1 dimers may be intrinsically dynamic. This provides a potential mechanism for signaling whereby extracellular events drive a shift in the repopulation of the underlying TM helix dimer energy landscape.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





6641 - 6652


Dimerization, Humans, Lipid Bilayers, Molecular Dynamics Simulation, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular, Phospholipids, Protein Structure, Secondary, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Receptor, EphA1, Thermodynamics