Ion Conduction Mechanism as a Fingerprint of Potassium Channels

Carmen Domene, Riccardo Ocello, Matteo Masetti, Simone Furini

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K+-channels are membrane proteins that regulate the selective conduction of potassium ions across cell membranes. Although the atomic mechanisms of K+ permeation have been extensively investigated, previous work focused on characterizing the selectivity and occupancy of the binding sites, the role of water molecules in the conduction process, or the identification of the minimum energy pathways enabling permeation. Here, we exploit molecular dynamics simulations and the analytical power of Markov state models to perform a comparative study of ion conduction in three distinct channel models. Significant differences emerged in terms of permeation mechanisms and binding site occupancy by potassium ions and/or water molecules from 100 μs cumulative trajectories. We found that, at odds with the current paradigm, each system displays a characteristic permeation mechanism, and thus, there is not a unique way by which potassium ions move through K+-channels. The high functional diversity of K+-channels can be attributed in part to the differences in conduction features that have emerged from this work. This study provides crucial information and further inspiration for wet-lab chemists designing new synthetic strategies to produce versatile artificial ion channels that emulate membrane transport for their applications in diagnosis, sensors, the next generation of water treatment technologies, etc., as the ability of synthetic channels to transport molecular ions across a bilayer in a controlled way is usually governed through the choice of metal ions, their oxidation states, or their coordination geometries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12181-12193
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number31
Early online date29 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2021


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