In Alzheimer's disease, calcium permeability through cellular membranes appears to underlie neuronal cell death. It is increasingly accepted that calcium permeability involves toxic ion channels. We modeled Alzheimer's disease ion channels of different sizes (12-mer to 36-mer) in the lipid bilayer using molecular dynamics simulations. Our Aβ channels consist of the solid-state NMR-based U-shaped β-strand-turn-β-strand motif. In the simulations we obtain ion-permeable channels whose subunit morphologies and shapes are consistent with electron microscopy/atomic force microscopy. In agreement with imaged channels, the simulations indicate that β-sheet channels break into loosely associated mobile β-sheet subunits. The preferred channel sizes (16- to 24-mer) are compatible with electron microscopy/atomic force microscopy-derived dimensions. Mobile subunits were also observed for β-sheet channels formed by cytolytic PG-1 β-hairpins. The emerging picture from our large-scale simulations is that toxic ion channels formed by β-sheets spontaneously break into loosely interacting dynamic units that associate and dissociate leading to toxic ionic flux. This sharply contrasts intact conventional gated ion channels that consist of tightly interacting α-helices that robustly prevent ion leakage, rather than hydrogen-bonded β-strands. The simulations suggest why conventional gated channels evolved to consist of interacting α-helices rather than hydrogen-bonded β-strands that tend to break in fluidic bilayers. Nature designs folded channels but not misfolded toxic channels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas