RELION Refined

Accepted manuscript, posted ahead of online November 9, 2018 in eLife (v. 7 art. e42166):

New tools for automated high-resolution cryo-EM structure determination in RELION-3

Jasenko Zivanov, Takanori Nakane, Björn O Forsberg, Dari Kimanius, Wim JH Hagen, Erik Lindahl & Sjors HW Scheres

Here, we describe the third major release of RELION. CPU-based vector acceleration has been added in addition to GPU support, which provides flexibility in use of resources and avoids memory limitations. Reference-free autopicking with Laplacian-of-Gaussian filtering and execution of jobs from python allows non-interactive processing during acquisition, including 2D-classification, de novo model generation and 3D-classification. Per-particle refinement of CTF parameters and correction of estimated beam tilt provides higher-resolution reconstructions when particles are at different heights in the ice, and/or coma-free alignment has not been optimal. Ewald sphere curvature correction improves resolution for large particles. We illustrate these developments with publicly available data sets: together with a Bayesian approach to beam-induced motion correction it leads to resolution improvements of 0.2–0.7 Å compared to previous RELION versions.

Read the full publication here.


Dynamic Basis for Drug Binding

From the October 16, 2018 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (v. 115 pp. 10672–10677):

Allosteric potentiation of a ligand-gated ion channel is mediated by access to a deep membrane-facing cavity

Stephanie A Heusser, Marie Lycksell, Xueqing Wang, Sarah E McComas, Rebecca J Howard & Erik Lindahl

Molecular mechanisms of general anesthetic modulation in pentameric ligand-gated ion channels remain controversial. Here we present molecular simulations and functional data that reveal correlations between dynamic differences in a membrane-accessible cavity and dramatic anesthetic effects, separate inhibitory and potentiating effects within the same electrophysiology recordings, and support a model for communication between the lipid bilayer and ion channel pore. In particular, enhanced electrostatic interactions in the membrane-accessible site were associated with a unique mode of anesthetic potentiation, persisting tens of minutes after washout. These results offer a bridge between lipid- and receptor-based theories of anesthesia, with the potential to inform both mechanistic understanding and drug development.

Read the full publication here.


Sweet Simulations

From the September 25, 2018 issue of Scientific Reports (v. 8 art. 14324):

Uptake dynamics in the Lactose permease (LacY) membrane protein transporter

Dari Kimanius, Erik Lindahl & Magnus Andersson

The sugar transporter Lactose permease (LacY) of Escherichia coli has become a prototype to understand the underlying molecular details of membrane transport. Crystal structures have trapped the protein in sugar-bound states facing the periplasm, but with narrow openings unable to accommodate sugar. Therefore, the molecular details of sugar uptake remain elusive. In this work, we have used extended simulations and metadynamics sampling to explore a putative sugar-uptake pathway and associated free energy landscape. We found an entrance at helix-pair 2 and 11, which involved lipid head groups and residues Gln 241 and Gln 359. Furthermore, the protein displayed high flexibility on the periplasmic side of Phe 27, which is located at the narrowest section of the pathway. Interactions to Phe 27 enabled passage into the binding site, which was associated with a 24 ± 4 kJ/mol binding free energy in excellent agreement with an independent binding free energy calculation and experimental data. Two free energy minima corresponding to the two possible binding poses of the lactose analog β-D-galactopyranosyl-1-thio-β-D-galactopyranoside (TDG) were aligned with the crystal structure-binding pocket. This work outlines the chemical environment of a putative periplasmic sugar pathway and paves way for understanding substrate affinity and specificity in LacY.

Corresponding author and former group member Magnus Andersson can now be reached at Umeå University. Read the full publication here.


Commentary: Opening Leads to Closing

Commentary for the October 1, 2018 issue of the Journal of General Physiology (v. 150 art. 1356):

Opening leads to closing: Allosteric crosstalk between the activation and inactivation gates in KcsA

Lucie Delemotte

Voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels control a number of different physiological processes, including the firing rate in axons. Such K+ channels display a reduction of conductance after exposure to a prolonged activating stimulus. This process, referred to as inactivation, causes repolarization of the cell membrane after the depolarizing phase of an action potential. The transient openings that result from it also allow neurons to readily fire a new action potential. Two types of inactivation mechanisms have been described in Kv channels (Hoshi et al., 1990). Fast inactivation, also called N-type inactivation, results from a mechanism that has been ascribed to pore blocking by a N-terminal peptide. Slow inactivation, or C-type inactivation, is revealed upon suppression of fast inactivation and is thought to be due to a conformational change occurring within the pore of the channel. While the structural basis of C-type inactivation appears to have been established, how it is dynamically coupled to channel activation remains to be understood in detail. In the Journal of General Physiology, a new study (see Li et al. 2018) proposes an intriguing mechanism for the allosteric control of C-type inactivation by the activation gate in the bacterial K+ channel KcsA.

Read the full commentary here.


Who Dances With an Electric Beat?

For the October 1, 2018 issue of the Journal of General Physiology (v. 150 art. 1444):

Determining the molecular basis of voltage sensitivity in membrane proteins

Marina A. Kasimova, Erik Lindahl & Lucie Delemotte

Voltage-sensitive membrane proteins are united by their ability to transform changes in membrane potential into mechanical work. They are responsible for a spectrum of physiological processes in living organisms, including electrical signaling and cell-cycle progression. Although the mechanism of voltage-sensing has been well characterized for some membrane proteins, including voltage-gated ion channels, even the location of the voltage-sensing elements remains unknown for others. Moreover, the detection of these elements by using experimental techniques is challenging because of the diversity of membrane proteins. Here, we provide a computational approach to predict voltage-sensing elements in any membrane protein, independent of its structure or function. It relies on an estimation of the propensity of a protein to respond to changes in membrane potential. We first show that this property correlates well with voltage sensitivity by applying our approach to a set of voltage-sensitive and voltage-insensitive membrane proteins. We further show that it correctly identifies authentic voltage-sensitive residues in the voltage-sensor domain of voltage-gated ion channels. Finally, we investigate six membrane proteins for which the voltage-sensing elements have not yet been characterized and identify residues and ions that might be involved in the response to voltage. The suggested approach is fast and simple and enables a characterization of voltage sensitivity that goes beyond mere identification of charges. We anticipate that its application before mutagenesis experiments will significantly reduce the number of potential voltage-sensitive elements to be tested.

Read the commentary in the same issue by Caitlin Sedwick, or see the paper here!


Human Skin Barrier Structure

Featured on the August 2018 cover of Journal of Structural Biology (v. 203 pp. 149–161):

Human skin barrier structure and function analyzed by cryo-EM and molecular dynamics simulation

Magnus Lundborg, Ali Narangifard, Christian L Wennberg, Erik Lindahl, Bertil Daneholt & Lars Norlén

In the present study we have analyzed the molecular structure and function of the human skin’s permeability barrier using molecular dynamics simulation validated against cryo-electron microscopy data from near native skin.

The skin’s barrier capacity is located to an intercellular lipid structure embedding the cells of the superficial most layer of skin – the stratum corneum. According to the splayed bilayer model (Iwai et al., 2012) the lipid structure is organized as stacked bilayers of ceramides in a splayed chain conformation with cholesterol associated with the ceramide sphingoid moiety and free fatty acids associated with the ceramide fatty acid moiety. However, knowledge about the lipid structure’s detailed molecular organization, and the roles of its different lipid constituents, remains circumstantial.

Starting from a molecular dynamics model based on the splayed bilayer model, we have, by stepwise structural and compositional modifications, arrived at a thermodynamically stable molecular dynamics model expressing simulated electron microscopy patterns matching original cryo-electron microscopy patterns from skin extremely closely. Strikingly, the closer the individual molecular dynamics models’ lipid composition was to that reported in human stratum corneum, the better was the match between the models’ simulated electron microscopy patterns and the original cryo-electron microscopy patterns. Moreover, the closest-matching model’s calculated water permeability and thermotropic behaviour were found compatible with that of human skin.

The new model may facilitate more advanced physics-based skin permeability predictions of drugs and toxicants. The proposed procedure for molecular dynamics based analysis of cellular cryo-electron microscopy data might be applied to other biomolecular systems.

Read the full publication here.


Boosting Efficiency With Riemann Metrics

From the August 30, 2018 issue of Physical Review E (v. 98 art. 023312):

Riemann metric approach to optimal sampling of multidimensional free-energy landscapes

Viveca Lindahl, Jack Lidmar & Berk Hess

Exploring the free-energy landscape along reaction coordinates or system parameters λ is central to many studies of high-dimensional model systems in physics, e.g., large molecules or spin glasses. In simulations this usually requires sampling conformational transitions or phase transitions, but efficient sampling is often difficult to attain due to the roughness of the energy landscape. For Boltzmann distributions, crossing rates decrease exponentially with free-energy barrier heights. Thus, exponential acceleration can be achieved in simulations by applying an artificial bias along λ tuned such that a flat target distribution is obtained. A flat distribution is, however, an ambiguous concept unless a proper metric is used and is generally suboptimal. Here we propose a multidimensional Riemann metric, which takes the local diffusion into account, and redefine uniform sampling such that it is invariant under nonlinear coordinate transformations. We use the metric in combination with the accelerated weight histogram method, a free-energy calculation and sampling method, to adaptively optimize sampling toward the target distribution prescribed by the metric. We demonstrate that for complex problems, such as molecular dynamics simulations of DNA base-pair opening, sampling uniformly according to the metric, which can be calculated without significant computational overhead, improves sampling efficiency by 50%–70%.

Read the full publication here.


Predicting Permeability through Skin

From the August 10, 2018 release of Journal of Controlled Release (v. 283 pp. 269–279):

Predicting drug permeability through skin using molecular dynamics simulation

Magnus Lundborg, Christian L Wennberg, Ali Narangifard, Erik Lindahl & Lars Norlén

Understanding and predicting permeability of compounds through skin is of interest for transdermal delivery of drugs and for toxicity predictions of chemicals. We show, using a new atomistic molecular dynamics model of the skin’s barrier structure, itself validated against near-native cryo-electron microscopy data from human skin, that skin permeability to the reference compounds benzene, DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), ethanol, codeine, naproxen, nicotine, testosterone and water can be predicted. The permeability results were validated against skin permeability data in the literature. We have investigated the relation between skin barrier molecular organization and permeability using atomistic molecular dynamics simulation. Furthermore, it is shown that the calculated mechanism of action differs between the five skin penetration enhancers Azone, DMSO, oleic acid, stearic acid and water. The permeability enhancing effect of a given penetration enhancer depends on the permeating compound and on the concentration of penetration enhancer inside the skin’s barrier structure. The presented method may open the door for computer based screening of the permeation of drugs and toxic compounds through skin.

Read the full publication here.


Contact Line Friction in Dynamic Wetting

From the July 2018 release of Physical Review Fluids (v. 3 art. 074201):

Molecular origin of contact line friction in dynamic wetting

Petter Johansson & Berk Hess

A hydrophilic liquid, such as water, forms hydrogen bonds with a hydrophilic substrate. The strength and locality of the hydrogen bonding interactions prohibit slip of the liquid over the substrate. The question then arises how the contact line can advance during wetting. Using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations we show that the contact line advances by single molecules moving ahead of the contact line through two distinct processes: either moving over or displacing other liquid molecules. In both processes friction occurs at the molecular scale. We measure the energy dissipation at the contact line and show that it is of the same magnitude as the dissipation in the bulk of a droplet. The friction increases significantly as the contact angle decreases, which suggests suggests thermal activation plays a role. We provide a simple model that is consistent with the observations.

Read the full publication here.


Frozen in Motion

From the June 1, 2018 release of eLife (v. 7 art. e36861):

Characterisation of molecular motions in cryo-EM single-particle data by multi-body refinement in RELION

Takanori Nakane, Dari Kimanius, Erik Lindahl & Sjors HW Scheres

Macromolecular complexes that exhibit continuous forms of structural flexibility pose a challenge for many existing tools in cryo-EM single-particle analysis. We describe a new tool, called multi-body refinement, which models flexible complexes as a user-defined number of rigid bodies that move independently from each other. Using separate focused refinements with iteratively improved partial signal subtraction, the new tool generates improved reconstructions for each of the defined bodies in a fully automated manner. Moreover, using principal component analysis on the relative orientations of the bodies over all particle images in the data set, we generate movies that describe the most important motions in the data. Our results on two test cases, a cytoplasmic ribosome from Plasmodium falciparum, and the spliceosomal B-complex from yeast, illustrate how multi-body refinement can be useful to gain unique insights into the structure and dynamics of large and flexible macromolecular complexes.

Read the full publication here.


K-Channel Models Go Viral

From the June 2018 release of The Journal of Membrane Biology (v. 251 pp. 419–430):

Exploring the viral channel Kcv(PBCV-1) function via computation

Alma EV Andersson, Marina A Kasimova & Lucie Delemotte

Viral potassium channels (Kcv) are homologous to the pore module of complex K⁺-selective ion channels of cellular organisms. Due to their relative simplicity, they have attracted interest towards understanding the principles of K⁺ conduction and channel gating. In this work, we construct a homology model of the Kcv(PBCV-1) open state, which we validate by studying the binding of known blockers and by monitoring ion conduction through the channel. Molecular dynamics simulations of this model reveal that the re-orientation of selectivity filter carbonyl groups coincides with the transport of potassium ions, suggesting a possible mechanism for fast gating. In addition, we show that the voltage sensitivity of this mechanism can originate from the relocation of potassium ions inside the selectivity filter. We also explore the interaction of Kcv(PBCV-1) with the surrounding bilayer and observe the binding of lipids in the area between two adjacent subunits. The model is available to the scientific community to further explore the structure/function relationship of Kcv channels.

Read the full publication here.


Consciousness Crystallized

Featured on the April 24, 2018 cover of Cell Reports (v. 23 pp. 993–1004):

Structural basis for a bimodal allosteric mechanism of general anesthetic modulation in pentameric ligand-gated ion channels

Zaineb Fourati*, Rebecca J Howard*, Stephanie A Heusser, Haidai Hu, Reinis R Ruza, Ludovic Sauguet, Erik Lindahl** & Marc Delarue**

*Equal contributions; **senior authors

Ion channel modulation by general anesthetics is a vital pharmacological process with implications for receptor biophysics and drug development. Functional studies have implicated conserved sites of both potentiation and inhibition in pentameric ligand-gated ion channels, but a detailed structural mechanism for these bimodal effects is lacking. The prokaryotic model protein GLIC recapitulates anesthetic modulation of human ion channels, and it is accessible to structure determination in both apparent open and closed states. Here, we report ten X-ray structures and electrophysiological characterization of GLIC variants in the presence and absence of general anesthetics, including the surgical agent propofol. We show that general anesthetics can allosterically favor closed channels by binding in the pore or favor open channels via various subsites in the transmembrane domain. Our results support an integrated, multi-site mechanism for allosteric modulation, and they provide atomic details of both potentiation and inhibition by one of the most common general anesthetics.

Read the full publication here.


Review: Permeating Disciplines

From the April 2018 release of Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Biomembranes (v. 1860 pp. 927–942):

Permeating disciplines: Overcoming barriers between molecular simulations and classical structure-function approaches in biological ion transport

Rebecca J Howard, Vincenzo Carnevale, Lucie Delemotte, Ute A Hellmich & Brad S Rothberg

Ion translocation across biological barriers is a fundamental requirement for life. In many cases, controlling this process—for example with neuroactive drugs—demands an understanding of rapid and reversible structural changes in membrane-embedded proteins, including ion channels and transporters. Classical approaches to electrophysiology and structural biology have provided valuable insights into several such proteins over macroscopic, often discontinuous scales of space and time. Integrating these observations into meaningful mechanistic models now relies increasingly on computational methods, particularly molecular dynamics simulations, while surfacing important challenges in data management and conceptual alignment. Here, we seek to provide contemporary context, concrete examples, and a look to the future for bridging disciplinary gaps in biological ion transport. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Beyond the Structure-Function Horizon of Membrane Proteins edited by Ute Hellmich, Rupak Doshi and Benjamin McIlwain.

Read the full review article here.


Calmodulin Contortions

From the April 3, 2018 release of PLoS Computational Biology (v. 14 art. e1006072):

Effect of Ca²⁺ on the promiscuous target-protein binding of calmodulin

Annie M Westerlund & Lucie Delemotte

Calmodulin (CaM) is a calcium sensing protein that regulates the function of a large number of proteins, thus playing a crucial part in many cell signaling pathways. CaM has the ability to bind more than 300 different target peptides in a Ca²⁺-dependent manner, mainly through the exposure of hydrophobic residues. How CaM can bind a large number of targets while retaining some selectivity is a fascinating open question. Here, we explore the mechanism of CaM selective promiscuity for selected target proteins. Analyzing enhanced sampling molecular dynamics simulations of Ca²⁺-bound and Ca²⁺-free CaM via spectral clustering has allowed us to identify distinct conformational states, characterized by interhelical angles, secondary structure determinants and the solvent exposure of specific residues. We searched for indicators of conformational selection by mapping solvent exposure of residues in these conformational states to contacts in structures of CaM/target peptide complexes. We thereby identified CaM states involved in various binding classes arranged along a depth binding gradient. Binding Ca²⁺ modifies the accessible hydrophobic surface of the two lobes and allows for deeper binding. Apo CaM indeed shows shallow binding involving predominantly polar and charged residues. Furthermore, binding to the C-terminal lobe of CaM appears selective and involves specific conformational states that can facilitate deep binding to target proteins, while binding to the N-terminal lobe appears to happen through a more flexible mechanism. Thus the long-ranged electrostatic interactions of the charged residues of the N-terminal lobe of CaM may initiate binding, while the short-ranged interactions of hydrophobic residues in the C-terminal lobe of CaM may account for selectivity. This work furthers our understanding of the mechanism of CaM binding and selectivity to different target proteins and paves the way towards a comprehensive model of CaM selectivity.

Read the full publication here.


Ceramide Simulations

Featured on the March 13, 2018 cover of Biophysical Journal (v. 114 pp. 1116–1127):

Structural transitions in ceramide cubic phases during formation of the human skin barrier

Christian L Wennberg, Ali Narangifard, Magnus Lundborg, Lars Norlén & Erik Lindahl

The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of human skin and the primary barrier toward the environment. The barrier function is maintained by stacked layers of saturated long-chain ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol. This structure is formed through a reorganization of glycosylceramide-based bilayers with cubic-like symmetry into ceramide-based bilayers with stacked lamellar symmetry. The process is accompanied by deglycosylation of glycosylceramides and dehydration of the skin barrier lipid structure. Using coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation, we show the effects of deglycosylation and dehydration on bilayers of human skin glycosylceramides and ceramides, folded in three dimensions with cubic (gyroid) symmetry. Deglycosylation of glycosylceramides destabilizes the cubic lipid bilayer phase and triggers a cubic-to-lamellar phase transition. Furthermore, subsequent dehydration of the deglycosylated lamellar ceramide system closes the remaining pores between adjacent lipid layers and locally induces a ceramide chain transformation from a hairpin-like to a splayed conformation.

Read the full publication here.