Probing the Conformational and Energy Landscapes of KRAS Membrane Orientation

J Phys Chem B. 2019 Oct 17;123(41):8644-8652. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.9b05796. Epub 2019 Oct 9.


Membrane reorientation of oncogenic RAS proteins is emerging as an important modulator of their functions. Previous studies have shown that the most common orientations include those with either the three C-terminal α-helices (OS1) or N-terminal β-strands (OS2) of the catalytic domain facing the membrane. OS1 and OS2 differ by the degree to which the effector-interacting surface is occluded by the membrane. However, the relative stability of these states and the rates of transition between them remained undetermined. How mutations might modulate preferences for specific orientation states is also far from clear. The current work attempted to address these questions through a comprehensive analysis of two 20 μs-long atomistic molecular dynamics simulations. The simulations were conducted on the oncogenic G12D and Q61H KRAS mutants bound to an anionic lipid bilayer. G12D and Q61H are among the most prevalent cancer-causing mutations at the P-loop and switch 2 regions of KRAS, respectively. We found that both mutants fluctuate in a similar manner between OS1 and OS2 via an intermediate orientation OS0, and both favor the signaling competent OS1 and OS0 over the occluded OS2. However, they differ in the details, such as in the extent to which they sample OS1. Analysis of the orientation free-energy landscapes estimated from the simulations indicate that OS1 and OS2 are the most stable states. However, the overall free energy surface is rugged, indicating a large diversity of conformations including at least two substates in each orientation state that differ in stability only by about 0.5-1.0 kcal/mol. Reversible transitions between OS1 and OS2 occur via two well-defined pathways that traverse OS0. In the minimum energy path, helix 4 remains close to the membrane as the angle of the catalytic domain from the membrane plane changes, resulting in a barrier of ∼1 kcal/mol for OS1/OS2 interconversions. Estimation of the rates of the various transitions based on survival probabilities yielded two rate constants in the order of 107 and 106 s-1, which we attribute to intrinsic protein conformational dynamics and transient protein-lipid interactions, respectively. The faster process dominates every transition, confirming a previous suggestion that RAS membrane reorientation is driven by conformational fluctuations rather than protein-lipid interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Catalytic Domain
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Lipid Bilayers / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Mutation*
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / chemistry*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras) / metabolism


  • KRAS protein, human
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)