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Keywords:

  • allostery;
  • chaperonin;
  • molecular dynamics simulations;
  • principal component analysis;
  • accessible conformational space;
  • pre-existing conformers

Abstract

The molecular chaperone, GroEL, essential for correct protein folding in E. coli, is composed of 14 identical subunits organized in two interacting rings, each providing a folding chamber for non-native substrate proteins. The oligomeric assembly shows positive cooperativity within each ring and negative cooperativity between the rings. Although it is well known that ATP and long-range allosteric interactions drive the functional cycle of GroEL, an atomic resolution view of how ligand binding modulates conformational adaptations over long distances remains a major challenge. Moreover, little is known on the relation between equilibrium dynamics at physiological temperatures and the allosteric transitions in GroEL. Here we present multiple all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of the GroEL-GroES assemblies at different stages of the functional cycle. Combined with an extensive analysis of the complete set of experimentally available structures, principal component analysis and conformer plots, we provide an explicit evaluation of the accessible conformational space of unliganded GroEL. Our results suggest the presence of pre-existing conformers at the equatorial domain level, and a shift of the conformational ensemble upon ATP-binding. At the inter-ring interface the simulations capture a remarkable offset motion of helix D triggered by ATP-binding to the folding active ring. The reorientation of helix D, previously only observed upon GroES association, correlates with a change of the internal dynamics in the opposite ring. This work contributes to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms in GroEL and highlights the ability of all-atom MD simulations to model long-range structural changes and allosteric events in large systems. Proteins 2012;. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.