The M2 protein of influenza A virus forms homotetrameric helix bundles, which function as proton-selective channels. The native form of the protein is 97 residues long, although peptides representing the transmembrane section display ion channel activity, which (like the native channel) is blocked by the antiviral drug amantadine. As a small ion channel, M2 may provide useful insights into more complex channel systems. Models of tetrameric bundles of helices containing either 18 or 22 residues have been simulated while embedded in a fully hydrated 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycerol-3- phosphatidylcholine bilayer. Several different starting models have been used. These suggest that the simulation results, at least on a nanosecond time scale, are sensitive to the exact starting structure. Electrostatics calculations carried out on a ring of four ionizable aspartate residues at the N-terminal mouth of the channel suggest that at any one time, only one will be in a charged state. Helix bundle models were mostly stable over the duration of the simulation, and their helices remained tilted relative to the bilayer normal. The M2 helix bundles form closed channels that undergo breathing motions, alternating between a tetramer and a dimer-of-dimers structure. Under these conditions either the channel forms a pocket of trapped waters or it contains a column of waters broken predominantly at the C-terminal mouth of the pore. These waters exhibit restricted motion in the pore and are effectively 'frozen' in a way similar to those seen in previous simulations of a proton channel formed by a four-helix bundle of a synthetic leucine-serine peptide (Randa et al., 1999, Biophys. J. 77:2400-2410).
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
LRF is an MRC research student. Work in MSPS's laboratory and in ITA's laboratory is supported by the Wellcome Trust. DPT was supported by the European Union under contract CT94-0124.