Molecular dynamics simulations of protein adsorption at interfaces
Brandani, Giovanni Bruno
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Proteins can often adsorb irreversibly at fluid/fluid interfaces; the understanding of the adsorption mechanism has relevance across a variety of industrial (e.g. the creation of stable emulsions) and biological (e.g. biofilm formation) processes. I performed molecular dynamics simulations of two surfactant proteins as they interact with air/water and oil/water interfaces, describing the origin of the surface activity, the adsorption dynamics and the conformational changes that these proteins undergo at the interface. BslA is an amphiphilic protein that forms a highly hydrophobic coat around B. subtilis biofilms, shielding the bacterial community from an external aqueous solution. By investigating the behaviour of BslA variants at oil/water interfaces via coarse-grained molecular dynamics, I show that BslA represents a biological example of an ellipsoidal Janus nanoparticle, whose surface interactions are controlled by a local conformational change. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations then reveal the details of the conformational change of the protein upon adsorption, and the self-assembly into a two-dimensional interfacial crystal. Ranaspumin-2 is one of the main components of the tungara frog foam nest. Contrary to most surfactant proteins, its structure lacks any sign of amphiphilicity. All-atom simulations show that the adsorption proceeds via a two-step mechanism where firstly the protein binds to the interface through its flexible N-terminal tail and then it undergoes a large conformational change in which the hydrophobic core becomes exposed to the oil phase. I then developed a simple structure-based coarse-grained model that highlights the same adsorption mechanism observed in all-atom simulations, and I used it to compare the dynamics of adsorption and the underlying free energy landscape of several mutants. These results agree with and are used to rationalise the observations from Langmuir trough and pendant drop experiments. Colloids can often be considered simpler versions of proteins that lack conformational changes. I performed coarse-grained simulations of the compression of interfacial monolayers formed by rod-like particles. These simulations show a rich behaviour characterised by the flipping of adsorbed rods, nematic ordering and bilayer formation. I report the series of transitions that take place as the rod aspect ratio is increased from 3 to 15.