Folding is not required for bilayer insertion: Replica exchange simulations of an α-helical peptide with an explicit lipid bilayer

Hugh Nymeyer, Thomas B. Woolf, Angel E. Garcia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


We implement the replica exchange molecular dynamics algorithm to study the interactions of a model peptide (WALP-16) with an explicitly represented DPPC membrane bilayer. We observe the spontaneous, unbiased insertion of WALP-16 into the DPPC bilayer and its folding into an α-helix with a transbilayer orientation. The free energy surface suggests that the insertion of the peptide into the DPPC bilayer precedes secondary structure formation. Although the peptide has some propensity to form a partially helical structure in the interfacial region of the DPPC/water system, this state is not a productive intermediate but rather an off-pathway trap for WALP-16 insertion. Equilibrium simulations show that the observed insertion/folding pathway mirrors the potential of mean force (PMF). Calculation of the enthalpic and entropic contributions to this PMF show that the surface bound conformation of WALP-16 is significantly lower in energy than other conformations, and that the insertion of WALP-16 into the bilayer without regular secondary structure is enthalpically unfavorable by 5-10 kcal/mol/residue. The observed insertion/folding pathway disagrees with the dominant conceptual model, which is that a surface-bound helix is an obligatory intermediate for the insertion of α-helical peptides into lipid bilayers. In our simulations, the observed insertion/folding pathway is favored because of a large (>100 kcal/mol) increase in system entropy that occurs when the unstructured WALP-16 peptide enters the lipid bilayer interior. The insertion/folding pathway that is lowest in free energy depends sensitively on the near cancellation of large enthalpic and entropic terms. This suggests the possibility that intrinsic membrane peptides may have a diversity of insertion/folding behaviors depending on the exact system of peptide and lipid under consideration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-790
Number of pages8
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2005


  • Four-stage model
  • Replica exchange molecular dynamics
  • WALP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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