The mechanism of glycerol conduction in aquaglyceroporins

Morten Jensen, Emad Tajkhorshid, Klaus Schulten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The E. coli glycerol facilitator, GlpF, selectively conducts glycerol and water, excluding ions and charged solutes. The detailed mechanism of the glycerol conduction and its relationship to the characteristic secondary structure of aquaporins and to the NPA motifs in the center of the channel are unknown. Results: Molecular dynamics simulations of GlpF reveal spontaneous glycerol and water conduction driven, on a nanosecond timescale, by thermal fluctuations. The bidirectional conduction, guided and facilitated by the secondary structure, is characterized by breakage and formation of hydrogen bonds for which water and glycerol compete. The conduction involves only very minor changes in the protein structure, and cooperativity between the GlpF monomers is not evident. The two conserved NPA motifs are strictly linked together by several stable hydrogen bonds and their asparagine side chains form hydrogen bonds with the substrates passing the channel in single file. Conclusions: A complete conduction of glycerol through the GlpF was deduced from molecular dynamics simulations, and key residues facilitating the conduction were identified. The nonhelical parts of the two half-membrane-spanning segments expose carbonyl groups towards the channel interior, establishing a curve-linear pathway. The conformational stability of the NPA motifs is important in the conduction and critical for selectivity. Water and glycerol compete in a random manner for hydrogen bonding sites in the protein, and their translocations in single file are correlated. The suggested conduction mechanism should apply to the whole family.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1083-1093
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2001


  • Aquaporin
  • Hydrogen bond
  • Membrane protein
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Water channel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Structural Biology


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