The effect of protein dielectric coefficient on the ionic selectivity of a calcium channel

Dezsö Boda, Mónika Valiskó, Bob Eisenberg, Wolfgang Nonner, Douglas Henderson, Dirk Gillespie

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88 Scopus citations


Calcium-selective ion channels are known to have carboxylate-rich selectivity filters, a common motif that is primarily responsible for their high Ca 2+ affinity. Different Ca 2+ affinities ranging from micromolar (the L-type Ca channel) to millimolar (the ryanodine receptor channel) are closely related to the different physiological functions of these channels. To understand the physical mechanism for this range of affinities given similar amino acids in their selectivity filters, we use grand canonical Monte Carlo simulations to assess the binding of monovalent and divalent ions in the selectivity filter of a model Ca channel. We use a reduced model where the electolyte is modeled by hard-sphere ions embedded in a continuum dielectric solvent, while the interior of protein surrounding the channel is allowed to have a dielectric coefficient different from that of the electrolyte. The induced charges that appear on the protein/lumen interface are calculated by the induced charge computation method [Boda et al., Phys. Rev. E 69, 046702 (2004)]. It is shown that decreasing the dielectric coefficient of the protein attracts more cations into the pore because the protein's carboxyl groups induce negative charges on the dielectric boundary. As the density of the hard-sphere ions increases in the filter, Ca 2+ is absorbed into the filter with higher probability than Na + because Ca 2+ provides twice the charge to neutralize the negative charge of the pore (both structural carboxylate oxygens and induced charges) than Na + while occupying about the same space (the charge/space competition mechanism). As a result, Ca 2+ affinity is improved an order of magnitude by decreasing the protein dielectric coefficient from 80 to 5. Our results indicate that adjusting the dielectric properties of the protein surrounding the permeation pathway is a possible way for evolution to regulate the Ca 2+ affinity of the common four-carboxylate motif.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number034901
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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