Role of internal loop dynamics in antibiotic permeability of outer membrane porins

Archit Kumar Vasan, Nandan Haloi, Rebecca Joy Ulrich, Mary Elizabeth Metcalf, Po-Chao Wen, William W. Metcalf, Paul J. Hergenrother, Diwakar Shukla, Emad Tajkhorshid
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 119, Issue 8, Article e2117009119, 2022.

Gram-negative bacteria pose a serious public health concern, primarily due to a higher frequency of antibiotic resistance conferred to them as a result of low permeability of their outer membrane (OM). Antibiotics capable of traversing the OM typically permeate through OM porins; thus, understanding the permeation properties of these porins is instrumental to the development of new antibiotics. A common macroscopic feature of many OM porins is their ability to transition between functionally distinct open and closed states that regulate transport properties and rate. To obtain a molecular basis for these processes, we performed tens of microseconds of molecular dynamics simulations of E. coli OM porin, OmpF. We observed that large-scale motion of the internal loop, L3, leads to widening and narrowing of the pore, suggesting its potential role in gating. Furthermore, Markov state analysis revealed multiple energetically stable conformations of L3 corresponding to open and closed states of the porin. Dynamics between these functional states occurs on the time scale of tens of microseconds and are mediated by the movement of highly conserved acidic residues of L3 to form H-bonds with opposing sides of the barrel wall of the pore. To validate our mechanism, we mutated key residues involved in the gating process that alter the H-bond pattern in the open/closed states and performed additional simulations. These mutations shifted the dynamic equilibrium of the pore towards open or closed states. Complementarily, the mutations favoring the open/closed states lead to increased/decreased accumulation of multiple antibiotics in our whole-cell accumulation assays. Notably, porins containing one of the mutations favoring the closed state has previously been found in antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. Overall, our 180 µs of simulation data (wild type and mutants) with concerted experiments suggests that regulation of the dynamic equilibrium between open and closed states of OM porins could be a mechanism by which Gram-negative bacteria acquire antibiotic resistance.