Predicting the influence of long-range molecular interactions on macroscopic-scale diffusion by homogenization of the Smoluchowski equation

P. M. Kekenes-Huskey, A. K. Gillette, J. A. McCammon

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12 Scopus citations


The macroscopic diffusion constant for a charged diffuser is in part dependent on (1) the volume excluded by solute "obstacles" and (2) long-range interactions between those obstacles and the diffuser. Increasing excluded volume reduces transport of the diffuser, while long-range interactions can either increase or decrease diffusivity, depending on the nature of the potential. We previously demonstrated [P. M. Kekenes-Huskey et al., Biophys. J. 105, 2130 (2013)] using homogenization theory that the configuration of molecular-scale obstacles can both hinder diffusion and induce diffusional anisotropy for small ions. As the density of molecular obstacles increases, van der Waals (vdW) and electrostatic interactions between obstacle and a diffuser become significant and can strongly influence the latter's diffusivity, which was neglected in our original model. Here, we extend this methodology to include a fixed (time-independent) potential of mean force, through homogenization of the Smoluchowski equation. We consider the diffusion of ions in crowded, hydrophilic environments at physiological ionic strengths and find that electrostatic and vdW interactions can enhance or depress effective diffusion rates for attractive or repulsive forces, respectively. Additionally, we show that the observed diffusion rate may be reduced independent of non-specific electrostatic and vdW interactions by treating obstacles that exhibit specific binding interactions as "buffers" that absorb free diffusers. Finally, we demonstrate that effective diffusion rates are sensitive to distribution of surface charge on a globular protein, Troponin C, suggesting that the use of molecular structures with atomistic-scale resolution can account for electrostatic influences on substrate transport. This approach offers new insight into the influence of molecular-scale, long-range interactions on transport of charged species, particularly for diffusion-influenced signaling events occurring in crowded cellular environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number174106
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number17
StatePublished - May 7 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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