Simulations of HIV Capsid Protein Dimerization Reveal the Effect of Chemistry and Topography on the Mechanism of Hydrophobic Protein Association.
Recent work has shown that the hydrophobic protein surfaces in aqueous solution sit near a drying transition. The tendency for these surfaces to expel water from their vicinity leads to self-assembly of macromolecular complexes. In this article, we show with a realistic model for a biologically pertinent system how this phenomenon appears at the molecular level. We focus on the association of the C-terminal domain (CA-C) of the human immunodeficiency virus capsid protein. By combining all-atom simulations with specialized sampling techniques, we measure the water density distribution during the approach of two CA-C proteins as a function of separation and amino acid sequence in the interfacial region. The simulations demonstrate that CA-C protein-protein interactions sit at the edge of a dewetting transition and that this mesoscopic manifestation of the underlying liquid-vapor phase transition can be readily manipulated by biology or protein engineering to significantly affect association behavior. Although the wild-type protein remains wet until contact, we identify a set of in silico mutations, in which three hydrophilic amino acids are replaced with nonpolar residues, that leads to dewetting before association. The existence of dewetting depends on the size and relative locations of substituted residues separated by nanometer length scales, indicating long-range cooperativity and a sensitivity to surface topography. These observations identify important details that are missing from descriptions of protein association based on buried hydrophobic surface area. Copyright © 2012 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.