Steered molecular dynamics studies of the potential of mean force of a Na+ or K+ ion in a cyclic peptide nanotube

Hyonseok Hwang, George C. Schatz*, Mark A. Ratner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Potential of mean force (PMF) profiles of a single Na+ or K + ion passing through a cyclic peptide nanotube, cyclo[-(D-Ala-Glu-D- Ala-Gln)2-], in water are calculated to provide insight into ion transport and to understand the conductance difference between these two ions. The PMF profiles are obtained by performing steered molecular dynamics (SMD) simulations that are based on the Jarzynski equality. The computed PMF profiles for both ions show barriers of around 2.4 kcal/mol at the channel entrances and exits and energy wells in the middle of the tube. The energy barriers, so-called dielectric energy barriers, arise due to the desolvation of water molecules when ions move across the nanotube, and the energy wells appear as a result of attractive interactions between the cations and negatively charged carbonyl oxygens on the backbone of the tube. We find more and deeper energy wells in the PMF profile for Na+ than for K+, which suggests that Na+ ions have a longer residence time inside the nanotube and that permeation of Na+ ions is reduced compared to K+ ions. Calculations of the radial distribution functions (RDF) between the ions and oxygens in the water molecules and in carbonyl groups on the tube and an investigation of the orientations of the carbonyl groups show that, in contrast with the dynamic carbonyl groups observed in the selectivity filter of the KcsA ion channel, the carbonyl groups in the cyclic peptide nanotube are relatively rigid, with only slight reorientation of the carbonyl groups as the cations pass through. The rigidity of the carbonyl groups in the cyclic peptide nanotube can be attributed to their role in hydrogen bonding, which is responsible for the tube structure. Comparison of the PMF profiles with the electrostatic energy profiles calculated from the Poisson-Boltzmann (PB) equation, a dielectric continuum model, reveals that the dielectric continuum model breaks down in the confined region within the tube that governs ion transport.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26448-26460
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 28 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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