On the role of thermal backbone fluctuations in myoglobin ligand gate dynamics

J Chem Phys. 2013 May 7;138(17):175101. doi: 10.1063/1.4801330.


We construct an energy function that describes the crystallographic structure of sperm whale myoglobin backbone. As a model in our construction, we use the Protein Data Bank entry 1ABS that has been measured at liquid helium temperature. Consequently, the thermal B-factor fluctuations are very small, which is an advantage in our construction. The energy function that we utilize resembles that of the discrete nonlinear Schrödinger equation. Likewise, ours supports topological solitons as local minimum energy configurations. We describe the 1ABS backbone in terms of topological solitons with a precision that deviates from 1ABS by an average root-mean-square distance, which is less than the experimentally observed Debye-Waller B-factor fluctuation distance. We then subject the topological multi-soliton solution to extensive numerical heating and cooling experiments, over a very wide range of temperatures. We concentrate in particular to temperatures above 300 K and below the Θ-point unfolding temperature, which is around 348 K. We confirm that the behavior of the topological multi-soliton is fully consistent with Anfinsen's thermodynamic principle, up to very high temperatures. We observe that the structure responds to an increase of temperature consistently in a very similar manner. This enables us to characterize the onset of thermally induced conformational changes in terms of three distinct backbone ligand gates. One of the gates is made of the helix F and the helix E. The two other gates are chosen similarly, when open they provide a direct access route for a ligand to reach the heme. We find that out of the three gates we investigate, the one which is formed by helices B and G is the most sensitive to thermally induced conformational changes. Our approach provides a novel perspective to the important problem of ligand entry and exit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fish Proteins / chemistry*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Myoglobin / chemistry*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Sperm Whale* / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics


  • Fish Proteins
  • Myoglobin