Insights into the binding of GABA to the insect RDL receptor from atomistic simulations: a comparison of models

J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2014 Jan;28(1):35-48. doi: 10.1007/s10822-013-9704-0. Epub 2014 Jan 18.


The resistance to dieldrin (RDL) receptor is an insect pentameric ligand-gated ion channel (pLGIC). It is activated by the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) binding to its extracellular domain; hence elucidating the atomistic details of this interaction is important for understanding how the RDL receptor functions. As no high resolution structures are currently available, we built homology models of the extracellular domain of the RDL receptor using different templates, including the widely used acetylcholine binding protein and two pLGICs, the Erwinia Chrysanthemi ligand-gated ion channel (ELIC) and the more recently resolved GluCl. We then docked GABA into the selected three dimensional structures, which we used as starting points for classical molecular dynamics simulations. This allowed us to analyze in detail the behavior of GABA in the binding sites, including the hydrogen bond and cation-π interaction networks it formed, the conformers it visited and the possible role of water molecules in mediating the interactions; we also estimated the binding free energies. The models were all stable and showed common features, including interactions consistent with experimental data and similar to other pLGICs; differences could be attributed to the quality of the models, which increases with increasing sequence identity, and the use of a pLGIC template. We supplemented the molecular dynamics information with metadynamics, a rare event method, by exploring the free energy landscape of GABA binding to the RDL receptor. Overall, we show that the GluCl template provided the best models. GABA forming direct salt-bridges with Arg211 and Glu204, and cation-π interactions with an aromatic cage including Tyr109, Phe206 and Tyr254, represents a favorable binding arrangement, and the interaction with Glu204 can also be mediated by a water molecule.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Dieldrin / chemistry*
  • Insecta
  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels / chemistry*
  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Protein Binding
  • Water / chemistry
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / chemistry*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Ligand-Gated Ion Channels
  • Ligands
  • Water
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Dieldrin
  • Acetylcholine