Multiscale Computational Modeling of Tubulin-Tubulin Lateral Interaction

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Microtubules are multistranded polymers in eukaryotic cells that support key cellular functions such as chromosome segregation, motor-based cargo transport, and maintenance of cell polarity. Microtubules self-assemble via “dynamic instability,” in which the dynamic plus ends switch stochastically between alternating phases of polymerization and depolymerization. A key question in the field is what are the atomistic origins of this switching, i.e., what is different between the GTP- and GDP-tubulin states that enables microtubule growth and shortening, respectively? More generally, a major challenge in biology is how to connect theoretical frameworks across length- and timescales, from atoms to cellular behavior. In this study, we describe a multiscale model by linking atomistic molecular dynamics (MD), molecular Brownian dynamics (BD), and cellular-level thermokinetic modeling of microtubules. Here, we investigated the underlying interaction energy when tubulin dimers associate laterally by performing all-atom MD simulations. We found that the lateral potential energy is not significantly different among three nucleotide states of tubulin, GTP, GDP, and GMPCPP and is estimated to be ≅ −11 kBT. Furthermore, using MD potential energy in our BD simulations of tubulin dimers confirms that the lateral bond is weak on its own, with a mean lifetime of ∼0.1 μs, implying that the longitudinal bond is required for microtubule assembly. We conclude that nucleotide-dependent lateral-bond strength is not the key mediator microtubule dynamic instability, implying that GTP acts elsewhere to exert its stabilizing influence on microtubule polymer. Furthermore, the estimated lateral-bond strength (ΔGlat 0≅ −5 kBT) is well-aligned with earlier estimates based on thermokinetic modeling and light microscopy measurements. Thus, we have computationally connected atomistic-level structural information, obtained by cryo-electron microscopy, to cellular-scale microtubule assembly dynamics using a combination of MD, BD, and thermokinetic models to bridge from Ångstroms to micrometers and from femtoseconds to minutes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1234-1249
Number of pages16
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

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