TransPath: A Computational Method to Study the Ion Transit Pathways in Membrane Channels

Abstract

The finely tuned structures of membrane channels allow selective passage of ions through the available aqueous pores. In order to understand channel function, it is crucial to locate the pore and study its physical and chemical properties. Recently obtained X-ray crystal structures of bacterial chloride channel homologues reveal a complicated topology with curvilinear pores. The commonly used HOLE program encounters difficulties in studying such pores. Here we propose a new pore-searching algorithm (TransPath) which uses the Configurational Bias Monte Carlo (CBMC) method to generate transmembrane trajectories driven by both geometric and electrostatic features. The trajectories are binned into groups determined by a vector distance criterion. From each group, a representative trajectory is selected based on the Rosenbluth weight, and the geometrically optimal path is obtained by simulated annealing. Candidate ion pathways can then be determined by analysis of the radius and potential profiles. The proposed method and its implementation are illustrated using the bacterial KcsA potassium channel as an example. The procedure is then applied to the more complex structures of the bacterial E. coli ClC channel homologues. To whom correspondence should be addressed: becktl@email.uc.edu

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