Computational Investigation of Cholesterol Binding Sites on Mitochondrial VDAC

The mitochondrial voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) allows passage of ions and metabolites across the mitochondrial outer membrane. Cholesterol binds mammalian VDAC, and we investigated the effects of binding to human VDAC1 with atomistic molecular dynamics simulations that totaled 1.4 μs. We docked cholesterol to specific sites on VDAC that were previously identified with NMR, and we tested the reliability of multiple docking results in each site with simulations. The most favorable binding modes were used to build a VDAC model with cholesterol occupying five unique sites, and during multiple 100 ns simulations, cholesterol stably and reproducibly remained bound to the protein. For comparison, VDAC was simulated in systems with identical components but with cholesterol initially unbound. The dynamics of loops that connect adjacent β-strands were most affected by bound cholesterol, with the averaged root-mean-square fluctuation (RMSF) of multiple residues altered by 20–30%. Cholesterol binding also stabilized charged residues inside the channel and localized the surrounding electrostatic potentials. Despite this, ion diffusion through the channel was not significantly affected by bound cholesterol, as evidenced by multi-ion potential of mean force measurements. Although we observed modest effects of cholesterol on the open channel, our model will be particularly useful in experiments that investigate how cholesterol affects VDAC function under applied electrochemical forces and also how other ligands and proteins interact with the channel.