Molecular Modeling of the Intracellular Environment
The inside of cells is highly crowded with bio-macromolecules, such as proteins, DNA, RNA. This environment is quite different from the conditions in a test tube that we usually use for analysis of biomolecular functions, where the macromolecular concentration is ~100 times less than inside cells. This crowding significantly alters motions (kinetics) and stability (thermodynamics) of those molecules. Therefore, modeling of the intracellular environment is an important first step towards whole cell simulation.
Recently, we simulated a virtual cytoplasmic system of E. coli to elucidate the nature of motions of macromolecules inside cells by using a Brownian dynamics method. Our simulation study showed that hydrodynamic interactions play an important role in macromolecular motions in cells: Hydrodynamic interactions greatly reduce the diffusion coefficient and create collective motions at cellular concentrations.
Reference: T. Ando and J. Skolnick. Crowding and hydrodynamic interactions likely dominate in vivo macromolecular motion. Proc Natl Acad Science 2010, 107:18457-18462.
Our work is featured in "American Scientis" (vol. 99, No. 1).
A B C D
(A) Molecular-shaped system with steric repulsions (25 microsecond to 30 microsecond). (B) Equivalent-sphere system with steric repulsions (25 microsecond to 30 microsecond). (C) Equivalent-sphere system with hydrodynamic interactions (10 microsecond to 15 microsecond). (D) Equivalent-sphere system with non-specific attractive interactions (45 microsecond to 50 microsecond).
When we consider only repulsive interactions between macromolecules, motions (diffusion) of GFP protein (drawn in green) are much faster than experimental results. On the other hand, when hydrodynamic interactions are incorporated into simulation, the diffusion constant of GFP is in good agreement with experiment. If we introduce non-specific attractive interactions to reproduce experimental diffusivity of GFP molecule, large molecules stick together.
Sedimentation of three identical spheres without (Left) and with (right) hydrodynamic interactions.