Elastic strain and twist analysis of protein structural data and allostery of the transmembrane channel KcsA

Phys Biol. 2018 Mar 1;15(3):036004. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/aa9906.


The abundance of available static protein structural data makes the more effective analysis and interpretation of this data a valuable tool to supplement the experimental study of protein mechanics. Structural displacements can be difficult to analyze and interpret. Previously, we showed that strains provide a more natural and interpretable representation of protein deformations, revealing mechanical coupling between spatially distinct sites of allosteric proteins. Here, we demonstrate that other transformations of displacements yield additional insights. We calculate the divergence and curl of deformations of the transmembrane channel KcsA. Additionally, we introduce quantities analogous to bend, splay, and twist deformation energies of nematic liquid crystals. These transformations enable the decomposition of displacements into different modes of deformation, helping to characterize the type of deformation a protein undergoes. We apply these calculations to study the filter and gating regions of KcsA. We observe a continuous path of rotational deformations physically coupling these two regions, and, we propose, underlying the allosteric interaction between these regions. Bend, splay, and twist distinguish KcsA gate opening, filter opening, and filter-gate coupling, respectively. In general, physically meaningful representations of deformations (like strain, curl, bend, splay, and twist) can make testable predictions and yield insights into protein mechanics, augmenting experimental methods and more fully exploiting available structural data.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Streptomyces lividans / chemistry*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Potassium Channels
  • prokaryotic potassium channel