Computer simulations of the translocation and unfolding of a protein pulled mechanically through a pore

Lei Huang, Serdal Kirmizialtin, Dmitrii E. Makarov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protein degradation by ATP-dependent proteases and protein import into the mitochondrial matrix involve the unfolding of proteins upon their passing through narrow constrictions. It has been hypothesized that the cellular machinery accomplishes protein unfolding by pulling mechanically at one end of the polypeptide chain. Here, we use Langevin dynamics simulations of a minimalist off-lattice model to examine this hypothesis and to study the unfolding of a protein domain pulled mechanically through a long narrow pore. We compute the potential of mean force (PMF) experienced by the domain as a function of its displacement along the pore and identify the unfolding intermediates corresponding to the local minima of the PMF. The observed unfolding mechanism is different from that found when the two termini are pulled apart, as in single-molecule mechanical unfolding experiments. It depends on the pore diameter, the magnitude of the pulling force, and on whether the force is applied at the N - or the C -terminus of the chain. Consequently, the translocation time exhibits a pulling force dependence that is more complex than a simple exponential function expected on the basis of simple phenomenological models of translocation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124903
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Sep 22 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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