Simulations of ion current in realistic models of ion channels: The KcsA potassium channel



Realistic studies of ion current in biologic channels present a major challenge for computer simulation approaches. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations involve serious time limitations that prevent their use in direct evaluation of ion current in channels with significant barriers. The alternative use of Brownian dynamics (BD) simulations can provide the current for simplified macroscopic models. However, the time needed for accurate calculations of electrostatic energies can make BD simulations of ion current expensive. The present work develops an approach that overcomes some of the above challenges and allows one to simulate ion currents in models of biologic channels. Our method provides a fast and reliable estimate of the energetics of the system by combining semimacroscopic calculations of the self-energy of each ion and an implicit treatment of the interactions between the ions, as well as the interactions between the ions and the protein-ionizable groups. This treatment involves the use of the semimacroscopic version of the protein dipole Langevin dipole (PDLD/S) model in its linear response approximation (LRA) implementation, which reduces the uncertainties about the value of the protein “dielectric constant.” The resulting free energy surface is used to generate the forces for on-the-fly BD simulations of the corresponding ion currents. Our model is examined in a preliminary simulation of the ion current in the KcsA potassium channel. The complete free energy profile for a single ion transport reflects reasonable energetics and captures the effect of the protein-ionized groups. This calculated profile indicates that we are dealing with the channel in its closed state. Reducing the barrier at the gate region allows us to simulate the ion current in a reasonable computational time. Several limiting cases are examined, including those that reproduce the observed current, and the nature of the productive trajectories is considered. The ability to simulate the current in realistic models of ion channels should provide a powerful tool for studies of the biologic function of such systems, including the analysis of the effect of mutations, pH, and electric potentials. Proteins 2002;47:265–280. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.