The elucidation of the molecular nature of the translocon-assisted protein insertion is a challenging problem due to the complexity of this process. Furthermore, the limited availability of crucial structural information makes it hard to interpret the hints about the insertion mechanism provided by biochemical studies. At present, it is not practical to explore the insertion process by brute force simulation approaches due to the extremely lengthy process and very complex landscape. Thus, this work uses our previously developed coarse-grained model and explores the energetics of the membrane insertion and translocation paths. The trend in the calculated free-energy profiles is verified by evaluating the correlation between the calculated and observed effect of mutations as well as the effect of inverting the signal peptide that reflects the "positive-inside" rule. Furthermore, the effect of the tentative opening induced by the ribosome is found to reduce the kinetic barrier. Significantly, the trend of the forward and backward energy barriers provides a powerful way to analyze key energetics information. Thus, it is concluded that the insertion process is most likely a nonequilibrium process. Moreover, we provided a general formulation for the analysis of the elusive apparent membrane insertion energy, ΔG(app), and conclude that this important parameter is unlikely to correspond to the free-energy difference between the translocon and membrane. Our formulation seems to resolve the controversy about ΔG(app) for Arg.
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