Gram-negative bacteria pose a serious public health concern due to resistance to many antibiotics, caused by the low permeability of their outer membrane (OM). Effective antibiotics use porins in the OM to reach the interior of the cell; thus, understanding permeation properties of OM porins is instrumental to rationally develop broad-spectrum antibiotics. A functionally important feature of OM porins is undergoing open-closed transitions that modulate their transport properties. To characterize the molecular basis of these transitions, we performed an extensive set of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of Escherichia coli OM porin OmpF. Markov-state analysis revealed that large-scale motion of an internal loop, L3, underlies the transition between energetically stable open and closed states. The conformation of L3 is controlled by H bonds between highly conserved acidic residues on the loop and basic residues on the OmpF β-barrel. Mutation of key residues important for the loop's conformation shifts the equilibrium between open and closed states and regulates translocation of permeants (ions and antibiotics), as observed in the simulations and validated by our whole-cell accumulation assay. Notably, one mutant system G119D, which we find to favor the closed state, has been reported in clinically resistant bacterial strains. Overall, our accumulated ∼200 μs of simulation data (the wild type and mutants) along with experimental assays suggest the involvement of internal loop dynamics in permeability of OM porins and antibiotic resistance in Gram-negative bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2117009119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 22 2022


  • Gram-negative pathogens
  • Markov-state modeling
  • antibiotic resistance
  • conformational transition
  • outer membrane porins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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