Adaptable Lipid Matrix Promotes Protein-Protein Association in Membranes
The cell membrane is "stuffed" with proteins, whose transmembrane (TM) helical domains spontaneously associate to form functionally active complexes. For a number of membrane receptors, a modulation of TM domains' oligomerization has been shown to contribute to the development of severe pathological states, thus calling for detailed studies of the atomistic aspects of the process. Despite considerable progress achieved so far, several crucial questions still remain: How do the helices recognize each other in the membrane? What is the driving force of their association? Here, we assess the dimerization free energy of TM helices along with a careful consideration of the interplay between the structure and dynamics of protein and lipids using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations in the hydrated lipid bilayer for three different model systems - TM fragments of glycophorin A, polyalanine and polyleucine peptides. We observe that the membrane driven association of TM helices exhibits a prominent entropic character, which depends on the peptide sequence. Thus, a single TM peptide of a given composition induces strong and characteristic perturbations in the hydrophobic core of the bilayer, which may facilitate the initial "communication" between TM helices even at the distances of 20-30 Å. Upon tight helix-helix association, the immobilized lipids accommodate near the peripheral surfaces of the dimer, thus disturbing the packing of the surrounding. The dimerization free energy of the modeled peptides corresponds to the strength of their interactions with lipids inside the membrane being the lowest for glycophorin A and similarly higher for both homopolymers. We propose that the ability to accommodate lipid tails determines the dimerization strength of TM peptides and that the lipid matrix directly governs their association.