Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pores, membranes, and knots

Nikolai Ivashin of the Institute of Physics in Minsk, Belarus, and Sven Larsson at Chalmers University in Sweden have investigated the role of an interstitial water molecule (water-A) in the primary charge-separation process of a bacterial photosynthetic reaction centre (J. Phys. Chem. B 112, 12124-12133; 2008 – paper here). It seems that water-A donates a proton to a side-chain group, and receives one from another, during the photoexcitation process, stabilizing the charge-transfer state. Water-A cannot rotate in the ground state, but this becomes possible in the photoexcited state – but if I read this rightly, it’s not clear that this is an essential part of the process.

Robert Harrison and coworkers at Georgia State University have compared the radial distribution functions of hydration water molecules from 105 protein crystal structures with that of bulk water (X. Chen et al., J. Phys. Chem. B 112, 12073-12080; 2008 – paper here). The two differ, but actually not by very much: the first and second maxima are sharper for hydration water, but appear at much the same separations. Certainly, the hydration-water rdfs are not ice-like.

Tetsuo Okada of the Tokyo Institute of Technology and coworkers have used XAFS to investigate the hydration structure of alkali metal cations and of bromide in aqueous solution and in a solution of ovalbumin (T. Ohki et al. J. Phys. Chem. B 112, 11863-11867; 2008 – paper here). They find little difference between the two cases, and conclude that the positive free energy of transferring the ions from water to the protein solution comes from perturbations only of the second hydration shell and/or beyond.

Chang Won and N. R. Aluru of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have studied water inside the nanoscale channels of boron nitride nanotubes (JACS 10.1021/ja803245d – paper here). Their simulations show that formation of a Stone-Wales defect in the wall structure – basically the conversion of four adjoining hexagons into two pentagons and two heptagons – will trigger the severing of a hydrogen-bonded chain of water molecules through a narrow tube (0.69 nm width) and create a vapour-like bubble localized at the defect, reducing water transport through the tube. This is further evidence of the acute sensitivity of water transport in these nanoscale pores to small perturbations (and thus the possibility of gated flow).

In a preprint shortly to be published in J. Phys. Chem. B, Valeria Molinero and Emily Moore of the University of Utah say that water can usefully be treated as an element intermediate between carbon and silicon (paper here). This somewhat rough and ready ‘monatomic’ water model does a surprisingly good job of capturing many of the key properties, and should supply a computationally cheap coarse-grained description for simulations.

Ulrich Schmidt and colleagues at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg show how ‘hydrophobic mismatching’ – a difference in the thickness of a membrane protein’s transmembrane hydrophobic domain and the thickness of the membrane itself – can facilitate the non-specific clustering of membrane proteins commonly found in vivo (U. Schmidt et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 128104; 2008 - paper here).

There is an interesting set of papers in the latest Faraday Discussions. Especially,
James Beattie and colleagues weigh in to the debate on the acid/base nature of interfacial water by reporting that zeta potential measurements show the air-water interface to be basic (Faraday Discuss. doi:10.1039/b805266b; paper here). They say that they see the same behaviour at all inert hydrophobic interfaces.

Francois-Xavier Coudert and colleagues report Monte Carlo simulations of water droplets confined in the nanoscale channels of zeolites (Faraday Discuss. doi:10.1039/b804992k; paper here). In hydrophobic pores the water leaves few dangling OH groups, while in hydrophilic pores it opens up to form weak hydrogen bonds with the zeolite oxygens.

And Maria Ricci and her colleagues argue that confined water shows similarities to supercooled water, in particular a shortening of hydrogen bonds
(M. A. Ricci et al., Faraday Discuss. doi:10.1039/b805706k; paper here).

In reference to the Beattie paper above, Greg Voth and colleagues further the contrary view, using the empirical valence-bond model, that hydrated protons are preferentially segregated at water-hydrophobic interfaces (S. Iuchi et al., J. Phys. Chem. B doi:10.1021/jp805304j; paper here). I confess that I am not optimistic about finding some reconciliation of all this in the near future, but I hope someone will.

Jeremy England and Vijay Pande have expanded on their recent JACS letter investigating the way water may be organized inside chaperonins, supporting the view that the cavity of GroEL may create a microenvironment that enhances the hydrophobic effect (Biophys. J. 95, 3391-3399; 2008 – paper here).

Andrew McCammon and colleagues at UC San Diego have looked at the thermodynamics of lipid partitioning between membranes and solution (A. A. Gorfe et al., Biophys. J. 95, 3269-3277; 2008 – paper here). They conclude that the hydrophobic effect here is primarily enthalpy-driven.

Joe Dzubiella at TU Munich has an interesting preprint) describing how a protein knot might trap a water molecule – I’ve discussed this and related work in my column in the October issue of Nature Materials.