The role of the dielectric barrier in narrow biological channels: A novel composite approach to modeling single-channel currents

Artem B. Mamonov, Rob D. Coalson, Abraham Nitzan, Maria G. Kurnikova*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


A composite continuum theory for calculating ion current through a protein channel of known structure is proposed, which incorporates information about the channel dynamics. The approach is utilized to predict current through the Gramicidin A ion channel, a narrow pore in which the applicability of conventional continuum theories is questionable. The proposed approach utilizes a modified version of Poisson-Nernst-Planck (PNP) theory, termed Potential-of-Mean-ForcePoisson-Nernst-Planck theory (PMFPNP), to compute ion currents. As in standard PNP, ion permeation is modeled as a continuum drift-diffusion process in a self-consistent electrostatic potential. In PMFPNP, however, information about the dynamic relaxation of the protein and the surrounding medium is incorporated into the model of ion permeation by including the free energy of inserting a single ion into the channel, i.e., the potential of mean force along the permeation pathway. In this way the dynamic flexibility of the channel environment is approximately accounted for. The PMF profile of the ion along the Gramicidin A channel is obtained by combining an equilibrium molecular dynamics (MD) simulation that samples dynamic protein configurations when an ion resides at a particular location in the channel with a continuum electrostatics calculation of the free energy. The diffusion coefficient of a potassium ion within the channel is also calculated using the MD trajectory. Therefore, except for a reasonable choice of dielectric constants, no direct fitting parameters enter into this model. The results of our study reveal that the channel response to the permeating ion produces significant electrostatic stabilization of the ion inside the channel. The dielectric self-energy of the ion remains essentially unchanged in the course of the MD simulation, indicating that no substantial changes in the protein geometry occur as the ion passes through it. Also, the model accounts for the experimentally observed saturation of ion current with increase of the electrolyte concentration, in contrast to the predictions of standard PNP theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3646-3661
Number of pages16
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2003


FundersFunder number
Kurt Lion Fund
National Institutes of HealthR0l GMG1082-03
American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund34754-AC6
Marquette University
Israel Science Foundation


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