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Pleckstrin homology (PH) domains mediate protein-membrane interactions by binding to phosphatidylinositol phosphate (PIP) molecules. The structural and energetic basis of selective PH-PIP interactions is central to understanding many cellular processes, yet the molecular complexities of the PH-PIP interactions are largely unknown. Molecular dynamics simulations using a coarse-grained model enables estimation of free-energy landscapes for the interactions of 12 different PH domains with membranes containing PIP2 or PIP3, allowing us to obtain a detailed molecular energetic understanding of the complexities of the interactions of the PH domains with PIP molecules in membranes. Distinct binding modes, corresponding to different distributions of cationic residues on the PH domain, were observed, involving PIP interactions at either the "canonical" (C) and/or "alternate" (A) sites. PH domains can be grouped by the relative strength of their C- and A-site interactions, revealing that a higher affinity correlates with increased C-site interactions. These simulations demonstrate that simultaneous binding of multiple PIP molecules by PH domains contributes to high-affinity membrane interactions, informing our understanding of membrane recognition by PH domains in vivo.

Original publication




Journal article


J Mol Biol

Publication Date





372 - 388


Free-energy, Membrane, Molecular dynamics, PH domains, PIP