Multiscale Simulation of an Influenza A M2 Channel Mutant Reveals Key Features of Its Markedly Different Proton Transport Behavior

J Am Chem Soc. 2022 Jan 19;144(2):769-776. doi: 10.1021/jacs.1c09281. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


The influenza A M2 channel, a prototype for viroporins, is an acid-activated viroporin that conducts protons across the viral membrane, a critical step in the viral life cycle. Four central His37 residues control channel activation by binding subsequent protons from the viral exterior, which opens the Trp41 gate and allows proton flux to the interior. Asp44 is essential for maintaining the Trp41 gate in a closed state at high pH, resulting in asymmetric conduction. The prevalent D44N mutant disrupts this gate and opens the C-terminal end of the channel, resulting in increased conduction and a loss of this asymmetric conduction. Here, we use extensive Multiscale Reactive Molecular Dynamics (MS-RMD) and quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) molecular dynamics simulations with an explicit, reactive excess proton to calculate the free energy of proton transport in this M2 mutant and to study the dynamic molecular-level behavior of D44N M2. We find that this mutation significantly lowers the barrier of His37 deprotonation in the activated state and shifts the barrier for entry to the Val27 tetrad. These free energy changes are reflected in structural shifts. Additionally, we show that the increased hydration around the His37 tetrad diminishes the effect of the His37 charge on the channel's water structure, facilitating proton transport and enabling activation from the viral interior. Altogether, this work provides key insight into the fundamental characteristics of PT in WT M2 and how the D44N mutation alters this PT mechanism, and it expands understanding of the role of emergent mutations in viroporins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Influenza A virus / metabolism*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protons
  • Quantum Theory
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / chemistry
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / metabolism*
  • Viroporin Proteins / chemistry
  • Viroporin Proteins / genetics
  • Viroporin Proteins / metabolism*
  • Water / chemistry


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