Proton-Induced Conformational and Hydration Dynamics in the Influenza A M2 Channel

J Am Chem Soc. 2019 Jul 24;141(29):11667-11676. doi: 10.1021/jacs.9b05136. Epub 2019 Jul 12.


The influenza A M2 protein is an acid-activated proton channel responsible for acidification of the inside of the virus, a critical step in the viral life cycle. This channel has four central histidine residues that form an acid-activated gate, binding protons from the outside until an activated state allows proton transport to the inside. While previous work has focused on proton transport through the channel, the structural and dynamic changes that accompany proton flux and enable activation have yet to be resolved. In this study, extensive Multiscale Reactive Molecular Dynamics simulations with explicit Grotthuss-shuttling hydrated excess protons are used to explore detailed molecular-level interactions that accompany proton transport in the +0, + 1, and +2 histidine charge states. The results demonstrate how the hydrated excess proton strongly influences both the protein and water hydrogen-bonding network throughout the channel, providing further insight into the channel's acid-activation mechanism and rectification behavior. We find that the excess proton dynamically, as a function of location, shifts the protein structure away from its equilibrium distributions uniquely for different pH conditions consistent with acid-activation. The proton distribution in the xy-plane is also shown to be asymmetric about the channel's main axis, which has potentially important implications for the mechanism of proton conduction and future drug design efforts.

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

  • Histidine / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protons
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / metabolism*
  • Water / chemistry


  • M2 protein, Influenza A virus
  • Protons
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • Water
  • Histidine