Biophysical journal

Three-dimensional stress field around a membrane protein: atomistic and coarse-grained simulation analysis of gramicidin A.

PMID 23332064


Using both atomistic and coarse-grained (CG) models, we compute the three-dimensional stress field around a gramicidin A (gA) dimer in lipid bilayers that feature different degrees of negative hydrophobic mismatch. The general trends in the computed stress field are similar at the atomistic and CG levels, supporting the use of the CG model for analyzing the mechanical features of protein/lipid/water interfaces. The calculations reveal that the stress field near the protein-lipid interface exhibits a layered structure with both significant repulsive and attractive regions, with the magnitude of the stress reaching 1000 bar in certain regions. Analysis of density profiles and stress field distributions helps highlight the Trp residues at the protein/membrane/water interface as mechanical anchors, suggesting that similar analysis is useful for identifying tension sensors in other membrane proteins, especially membrane proteins involved in mechanosensation. This work fosters a connection between microscopic and continuum mechanics models for proteins in complex environments and makes it possible to test the validity of assumptions commonly made in continuum mechanics models for membrane mediated processes. For example, using the calculated stress field, we estimate the free energy of membrane deformation induced by the hydrophobic mismatch, and the results for regions beyond the annular lipids are in general consistent with relevant experimental data and previous theoretical estimates using elasticity theory. On the other hand, the assumptions of homogeneous material properties for the membrane and a bilayer thickness at the protein/lipid interface being independent of lipid type (e.g., tail length) appear to be oversimplified, highlighting the importance of annular lipids of membrane proteins. Finally, the stress field analysis makes it clear that the effect of even rather severe hydrophobic mismatch propagates to only about two to three lipid layers, thus putting a limit on the range of cooperativity between membrane proteins in crowded cellular membranes.