The dynamic nature of lipid membranes presents significant challenges with respect to understanding the molecular basis of protein/membrane interactions. Consequently, there is relatively little known about the structural mechanisms by which membrane-binding proteins might distinguish subtle variations in lipid membrane composition and/or structure. We have previously developed a multidisciplinary approach that combines molecular dynamics simulation with interfacial x-ray scattering experiments to produce an atomistic model for phosphatidylserine recognition by the immune receptor Tim4. However, this approach requires a previously determined protein crystal structure in a membrane-bound conformation. Tim1, a Tim4 homolog with distinct differences in both immunological function and sensitivity to membrane composition, was crystalized in a closed-loop conformation that is unlikely to support membrane binding. Here we have used a previously described highly mobile membrane mimetic membrane in combination with a conventional lipid bilayer model to generate a membrane-bound configuration of Tim1 in silico. This refined structure provided a significantly improved fit of experimental x-ray reflectivity data. Moreover, the coupling of the x-ray reflectivity analysis with both highly mobile membrane mimetic membranes and conventional lipid bilayer molecular dynamics simulations yielded a dynamic model of phosphatidylserine membrane recognition by Tim1 with atomic-level detail. In addition to providing, to our knowledge, new insights into the molecular mechanisms that distinguish the various Tim receptors, these results demonstrate that in silico membrane-binding simulations can remove the requirement that the existing crystal structure be in the membrane-bound conformation for effective x-ray reflectivity analysis. Consequently, this refined methodology has the potential for much broader applicability with respect to defining the atomistic details of membrane-binding proteins.
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