Permeation of water through the KcsA K + channel

Simone Furini, Oliver Beckstein, Carmen Domene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Previous studies have reported that the KcsA potassium channel has an osmotic permeability coefficient of 4.8 × 10 -12 cm 3/s, giving it a significantly higher osmotic permeability coefficient than that of some membrane channels specialized in water transport. This high osmotic permeability is proposed to occur when the channel is depleted of potassium ions, the presence of which slow down the water permeation process. The atomic structure of the potassium-depleted KcsA channel and the mechanisms of water permeation have not been well characterized so far. Here, all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, in conjunction with an umbrella sampling strategy and a nonequilibrium approach to simulate pressure gradients are employed to illustrate the permeation of water in the absence of ions through the KcsA K 1 channel. Equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations (95 ns combined total length) identified a possible structure of the potassium- depleted KcsA channel, and umbrella sampling calculations (160 ns combined total length) revealed that this structure is not permeable by water molecules moving along the channel axis. The simulation of a pressure gradient across the channel (30 ns combined total length) identified an alternative permeation pathway with a computed osmotic permeability of ∼(2.7 ± 0.9) × 10 -13 cm 3/s. Water fluxes along this pathway did not proceed through collective water motions or transitions to vapor state. All of the major results of this study were robust against variations in a wide set of simulation parameters (force field, water model, membrane model, and channel conformation).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-448
Number of pages12
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Bioinformatics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Liquid vapor oscillations
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Osmotic permeability
  • Potassium channels
  • Pressure-induced water transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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