Derivation of Poisson and Nernst-Planck equations in a bath and channel from a molecular model

Z. Schuss, B. Nadler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Permeation of ions from one electrolytic solution to another, through a protein channel, is a biological process of considerable importance. Permeation occurs on a time scale of micro- to milliseconds, far longer than the femtosecond time scales of atomic motion. Direct simulations of atomic dynamics are not yet possible for such long-time scales; thus, averaging is unavoidable. The question is what and how to average. In this paper, we average a Langevin model of ionic motion in a bulk solution and protein channel. The main result is a coupled system of averaged Poisson and Nernst-Planck equations (CPNP) involving conditional and unconditional charge densities and conditional potentials. The resulting NP equations contain the averaged force on a single ion, which is the sum of two components. The first component is the gradient of a conditional electric potential that is the solution of Poisson’s equation with conditional and permanent charge densities and boundary conditions of the applied voltage. The second component is the self-induced force on an ion due to surface charges induced only by that ion at dielectric interfaces. The ion induces surface polarization charge that exerts a significant force on the ion itself, not present in earlier PNP equations. The proposed CPNP system is not complete, however, because the electric potential satisfies Poisson’s equation with conditional charge densities, conditioned on the location of an ion, while the NP equations contain unconditional densities. The conditional densities are closely related to the well-studied pair-correlation functions of equilibrium statistical mechanics. We examine a specific closure relation, which on the one hand replaces the conditional charge densities by the unconditional ones in the Poisson equation, and on the other hand replaces the self-induced force in the NP equation by an effective self-induced force. This effective self-induced force is nearly zero in the baths but is approximately equal to the self-induced force in and near the channel. The charge densities in the NP equations are interpreted as time averages over long times of the motion of a quasiparticle that diffuses with the same diffusion coefficient as that of a real ion, but is driven by the averaged force. In this way, continuum equations with averaged charge densities and mean-fields can be used to describe permeation through a protein channel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14
Number of pages1
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical Physics, Plasmas, Fluids, and Related Interdisciplinary Topics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


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