Experimental challenges associated with characterization of the membrane-bound form of talin have prevented us from understanding the molecular mechanism of its membrane-dependent integrin activation. Here, utilizing what we believe to be a novel membrane mimetic model, we present a reproducible model of membrane-bound talin observed across multiple independent simulations. We characterize both local and global membrane-induced structural transitions that successfully reconcile discrepancies between biochemical and structural studies and provide insight into how talin might modulate integrin function. Membrane binding of talin, captured in unbiased simulations, proceeds through three distinct steps: initial electrostatic recruitment of the F2 subdomain to anionic lipids via several basic residues; insertion of an initially buried, conserved hydrophobic anchor into the membrane; and association of the F3 subdomain with the membrane surface through a large, interdomain conformational change. These latter two steps, to our knowledge, have not been observed or described previously. Electrostatic analysis shows talin F2F3 to be highly polarized, with a highly positive underside, which we attribute to the initial electrostatic recruitment, and a negative top face, which can help orient the protein optimally with respect to the membrane, thereby reducing the number of unproductive membrane collision events.
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