Synthetic channel-forming peptides that can restore chloride conductance across epithelial membranes could provide a novel treatment of channelopathies such as cystic fibrosis. Among a series of 22-residue peptides derived from the second transmembrane segment of the glycine receptor alpha(1)-subunit (M2GlyR), p22-S22W (KKKKP ARVGL GITTV LTMTT QW) is particularly promising with robust membrane insertion and assembly. The concentration to reach one-half maximal short circuit current is reduced to 45 +/- 6 microM from that of 210 +/- 70 microM of peptide p22 (KKKKP ARVGL GITTV LTMTT QS). However, this is accompanied with nearly 50% reduction in conductance. Toward obtaining a molecular level understanding of the channel activities, we combine information from solution NMR, existing biophysical data, and molecular modeling to construct atomistic models of the putative pentameric channels of p22 and p22-S22W. Simulations in membrane bilayers demonstrate that these structural models, even though highly flexible, are stable and remain adequately open for ion conductance. The membrane-anchoring tryptophan residues not only rigidify the whole channel, suggesting increased stability, but also lead to global changes in the pore profile. Specifically, the p22-S22W pore has a smaller opening on average, consistent with lower measured conductance. Direct observation of several incidences of chloride transport suggests several qualitative features of how these channels might selectively conduct anions. The current study thus helps to rationalize the functional consequences of introducing a single C-terminal tryptophan. Availability of these structural models also paves the way for future work to rationally modify and improve M2GlyR-derived peptides toward potential peptide-based channel replacement therapy.
(c) 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.