Modeling the Sterol-Binding Domain of Aster-A Provides Insight into Its Multiligand Specificity

Laust Moesgaard, Peter Reinholdt, Daniel Wüstner, Jacob Kongsted*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Intracellular transport of cholesterol and related sterols relies to a large degree on nonvesicular mechanisms, which are only partly understood at the molecular level. Aster proteins belonging to the Lam family of sterol transfer proteins have recently been identified as important catalysts of nonvesicular sterol exchange between the plasma membrane (PM) and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Here, we used a range of computational tools to study the molecular mechanisms underlying sterol binding as well as multisterol ligand specificity of Aster-A. Our study focused primarily on gaining atomistic insight into the bound ligand-protein complex and was, on this basis, performed in the absence of any membrane. Molecular mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MM-PBSA) calculations provide a rationale for the experimentally found ranking of binding affinities of various sterols to Aster-A. In particular, the polarity of the sterols and the length of their alkyl chain could be identified as being critical determinants of ligand affinity. A Gibbs free energy decomposition identified a charged residue, Glu444, at the base of the binding pose as an important control point for sterol binding. Removing its net charge via protonation was found to cause significant changes to the environment surrounding this residue. In addition, the protonation of Glu444 was found to be paralleled by a large redistribution of molecular flexibility in the Aster domain. This finding was supplemented by multiple branched adaptive steered molecular dynamics (MB-ASMD) simulations by which we defined a possible molecular path for sterol release and demonstrated the importance of Glu444 in this process.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Volume60
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)2268-2281
ISSN1549-9596
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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