Multiple nanosecond duration molecular dynamics simulations on the pore-lining M2 helix of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor reveal how its structure and dynamics change as a function of environment. In water, the M2 helix partially unfolds to form a molecular hinge in the vicinity of a central Leu residue that has been implicated in the mechanism of ion channel gating. In a phospholipid bilayer, either as a single transmembrane helix, or as part of a pentameric helix bundle, the M2 helix shows less flexibility, but still exhibits a kink in the vicinity of the central Leu. The single M2 helix tilts relative to the bilayer normal by 12 degrees, in agreement with recent solid state NMR data (Opella et al., Nat Struct Biol 6:374-379, 1999). The pentameric helix bundle, a model for the pore domain of the nicotinic receptor and for channels formed by M2 peptides in a bilayer, is remarkably stable over a 2-ns MD simulation in a bilayer, provided one adjusts the pK(A)s of ionizable residues to their calculated values (when taking their environment into account) before starting the simulation. The resultant transbilayer pore shows fluctuations at either mouth which transiently close the channel. Proteins 2000;39:47-55.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.