Molecular dynamics simulations of membrane proteins under asymmetric ionic concentrations

J Gen Physiol. 2013 Oct;142(4):465-75. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201311014.


A computational method is developed to allow molecular dynamics simulations of biomembrane systems under realistic ionic gradients and asymmetric salt concentrations while maintaining the conventional periodic boundary conditions required to minimize finite-size effects in an all-atom explicit solvent representation. The method, which consists of introducing a nonperiodic energy step acting on the ionic species at the edge of the simulation cell, is first tested with illustrative applications to a simple membrane slab model and a phospholipid membrane bilayer. The nonperiodic energy-step method is then used to calculate the reversal potential of the bacterial porin OmpF, a large cation-specific β-barrel channel, by simulating the I-V curve under an asymmetric 10:1 KCl concentration gradient. The calculated reversal potential of 28.6 mV is found to be in excellent agreement with the values of 26-27 mV measured from lipid bilayer experiments, thereby demonstrating that the method allows realistic simulations of nonequilibrium membrane transport with quantitative accuracy. As a final example, the pore domain of Kv1.2, a highly selective voltage-activated K(+) channel, is simulated in a lipid bilayer under conditions that recreate, for the first time, the physiological K(+) and Na(+) concentration gradients and the electrostatic potential difference of living cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Kv1.2 Potassium Channel / chemistry*
  • Kv1.2 Potassium Channel / metabolism
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Porins / chemistry*
  • Porins / metabolism
  • Potassium / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism*


  • Kv1.2 Potassium Channel
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • OmpF protein
  • Porins
  • Sodium
  • Potassium