Accessing a hidden conformation of the maltose binding protein using accelerated molecular dynamics

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Apr;7(4):e1002034. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002034. Epub 2011 Apr 21.


Periplasmic binding proteins (PBPs) are a large family of molecular transporters that play a key role in nutrient uptake and chemotaxis in Gram-negative bacteria. All PBPs have characteristic two-domain architecture with a central interdomain ligand-binding cleft. Upon binding to their respective ligands, PBPs undergo a large conformational change that effectively closes the binding cleft. This conformational change is traditionally viewed as a ligand induced-fit process; however, the intrinsic dynamics of the protein may also be crucial for ligand recognition. Recent NMR paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) experiments have shown that the maltose binding protein (MBP) - a prototypical member of the PBP superfamily - exists in a rapidly exchanging (ns to µs regime) mixture comprising an open state (approx 95%), and a minor partially closed state (approx 5%). Here we describe accelerated MD simulations that provide a detailed picture of the transition between the open and partially closed states, and confirm the existence of a dynamical equilibrium between these two states in apo MBP. We find that a flexible part of the protein called the balancing interface motif (residues 175-184) is displaced during the transformation. Continuum electrostatic calculations indicate that the repacking of non-polar residues near the hinge region plays an important role in driving the conformational change. Oscillations between open and partially closed states create variations in the shape and size of the binding site. The study provides a detailed description of the conformational space available to ligand-free MBP, and has implications for understanding ligand recognition and allostery in related proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Site
  • Binding Sites
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Crystallography, X-Ray / methods
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Oscillometry / methods
  • Protein Conformation
  • Static Electricity


  • Ligands
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins