The synergistic mechanisms of apo-ferritin structural transitions and Au(iii) ion transportation: molecular dynamics simulations with the Markov state model†
Due to its unique structure, recent years have witnessed the use of apo-ferritin to accumulate various non-natural metal ions as a scaffold for nanomaterial synthesis. However, the transport mechanism of metal ions into the cavity of apo-ferritin is still unclear, limiting the rational design and controllable preparation of nanomaterials. Here, we conducted all-atom classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations combined with Markov state models (MSMs) to explore the transportation behavior of Au(III) ions. We exhibited the complete transportation paths of Au(III) from solution into the apo-ferritin cage at the atomic level. We also revealed that the transportation of Au(III) ions is accompanied by coupled protein structural changes. It is shown that the 3-fold axis channel serves as the only entrance with the longest residence time of Au(III) ions. Besides, there are eight binding clusters and five 3-fold structural metastable states, which are important during Au(III) transportation. The conformational changes of His118, Asp127, and Glu130, acting as doors, were observed to highly correlate with the Au(III) ion's position. The MSM analysis and Potential Mean Force (PMF) calculation suggest a remarkable energy barrier near Glu130, making it the rate-limiting step of the whole process. The dominant transportation pathway is from cluster 3 in the 3-fold channel to the inner cavity to cluster 5 on the inner surface, and then to cluster 6. These findings provide inspiration and theoretical guidance for the further rational design and preparation of new nanomaterials using apo-ferritin.