Ligand binding and global adaptation of the GlnPQ substrate binding domain 2 revealed by molecular dynamics simulations

Maximilian Kienlein, Martin Zacharias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Substrate-binding domains (SBD) are important structural elements of substrate transporters mediating the transport of essential molecules across the cell membrane. The SBD2 domain of the glutamine (GLN) transporter from bacteria consists of two domains D1 and D2 that bind GLN in the space between the domains in a closed conformation. In the absence of ligand, SBD2 adopts an open conformation with increased domain distance. In molecular dynamics (MD) simulations in the absence of ligands, no closing of the open conformation was observed on the MD time scale. Addition of GLN resulted in several reversible binding and unbinding events of GLN at the binding site on the D1 domain but did not induce domain closing indicating that binding and global domain closing do not occur simultaneously. The SBD2 structure remained in a closed state when starting from the GLN-bound closed crystal structure and opened quickly to reach the open state upon removal of the GLN ligand. Free energy simulations to induce opening to closing indicated a barrier for closing in the absence and presence of ligand and a significant penalty for closing without GLN in the binding pocket. Simulations of a Leu480Ala mutation also indicate that an interaction of a C-terminal D1-tail471-484 with a D2-helix418-427 (not contacting the substrate-binding region) plays a decisive role for controlling the barrier of conformational switching in the SBD2 protein. The results allow us to derive a model of the molecular mechanism of substrate binding to SBD2 and associated conformational changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2482-2494
Number of pages13
JournalProtein Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • GlnPQ ligand binding
  • advanced sampling
  • conformational dynamics and substrate binding
  • coupled domain motion and binding
  • free energy simulations
  • ligand-induced global transition
  • molecular simulations
  • periplasmic transporter


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