The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) that mediates fast intercellular communication in response to neurotransmitters is a paradigm of ligand-gated ion channels. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations are valuable in understanding membrane protein function at atomic level, providing useful clues for further experimental/theoretical studies. In this brief review, recent progress in MD simulations of the nAChR has been illustrated, mainly focusing on the latest simulation of the whole transmembrane domain of the receptor. On the basis of MD simulations, asymmetrical and asynchronous motions of five subunits were observed both in the ligand binding and transmembrane domains; a closed-toopen conformational shift of the gate was captured in different simulation systems; the contributions from the lipid molecules and other transmembrane segments rather than M2 to the gate switch as well as the conformational change of the whole channel were assessed; the dynamic behavior and related physical/chemical properties of the water molecules and cations within the ion channel were examined; and an experimentally comparable single-channel conductance and ion selectivity were obtained.
Keywords: GABA receptors, molecular dynamics (MD) simulation, M1-M3 segments, mutagenesis, Neuronal-type pentamer nAChRs
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