Journal of Molecular Biology
Adenylate kinase (AdK), a phosphotransferase enzyme, plays an important role in cellular energy homeostasis. It undergoes a large conformational change between an open and a closed state, even in the absence of substrate. We investigate the apo-AdK transition at the atomic level both with free-energy calculations and with our new dynamic importance sampling (DIMS) molecular dynamics method. DIMS is shown to sample biologically relevant conformations as verified by comparing an ensemble of hundreds of DIMS transitions to AdK crystal structure intermediates. The simulations reveal in atomic detail how hinge regions partially and intermittently unfold during the transition. Conserved salt bridges are seen to have important structural and dynamic roles; in particular, four ionic bonds that open in a sequential, zipper-like fashion and, thus, dominate the free-energy landscape of the transition are identified. Transitions between the closed and open conformations only have to overcome moderate free-energy barriers. Unexpectedly, the closed state and the open state encompass broad free-energy basins that contain conformations differing in domain hinge motions by up to 40°. The significance of these extended states is discussed in relation to recent experimental Förster resonance energy transfer measurements. Taken together, these results demonstrate how a small number of cooperative key interactions can shape the overall dynamics of an enzyme and suggest an “all-or-nothing” mechanism for the opening and closing of AdK. Our efficient DIMS molecular dynamics computer simulation approach can provide a detailed picture of a functionally important macromolecular transition and thus help to interpret and suggest experiments to probe the conformational landscape of dynamic proteins such as AdK.