Alamethicin K18 is a covalently linked alamethicin dimer in which the glutamine residue at position 18 in each helix has been replaced by a lysine residue. As described in previous work, channels formed by this peptide show pH-dependent selectivity. The maximum anion selectivity of the putative octameric conducting state is obtained at pH 7 or lower. Inasmuch as no change in selectivity is seen between pH 7 and pH 3, and because protons are expected to be in equilibrium with the open state of the channel during a selectivity measurement, the channel is believed to be fully charged (i.e., all eight lysines protonated) at pH 7. In an effort to understand how such a highly charged channel structure is stable in membranes and why it is not more selective for anions, we have performed a number of computer simulations of the system. Molecular dynamics simulations of 10 ns each of the octameric bundle in, a lipid bilayer environment are presented, with either zero, four, or eight lysines charged in the absence of salt, and with eight lysines charged in the presence of 0.5 M and 1 M KCl. When no salt is present and all lysines are charged, on average 1.9 Cl- ions are inside the channel and the channel significantly deforms. With 0.5 M KCl present, 2.9 Cl- ions are inside the channel. With 1 M KCl present, four Cl- ions are present and the channel maintains a regular structure. Poisson-Boltzmann calculations on models of the octameric channel also predict an average of 2-4 Cl- ions near the lysine residues as a function of ionic strength. These counterions lower the apparent charge of the channel, which may underlie the decrease in selectivity observed experimentally with increasing salt concentrations. We suggest that to increase the selectivity of Alm K18 channels, positive charges could be engineered in a narrower part of the channel.
Tieleman, D. P., Borisenko, V., Sansom, M. S. P., & Woolley, G. A. (2003). Understanding pH-dependent selectivity of alamethicin K18 channels by computer simulation. Biophysical Journal, 84(3), 1464–1469. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(03)74959-5