Insights into the Dynamics of HIV-1 Protease: A Kinetic Network Model Constructed from Atomistic Simulations

The conformational dynamics in the flaps of HIV-1 protease plays a crucial role in the mechanism of substrate binding. We develop a kinetic network model, constructed from detailed atomistic simulations, to determine the kinetic mechanisms of the conformational transitions in HIV-1 PR. To overcome the time scale limitation of conventional molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, our method combines replica exchange MD with transition path theory (TPT) to study the diversity and temperature dependence of the pathways connecting functionally important states of the protease. At low temperatures the large-scale flap opening is dominated by a small number of paths; at elevated temperatures the transition occurs through many structurally heterogeneous routes. The expanded conformation in the crystal structure 1TW7 is found to closely mimic a key intermediate in the flap-opening pathways at low temperature. We investigated the different transition mechanisms between the semi-open and closed forms. The calculated relaxation times reveal fast semi-open ↔ closed transitions, and infrequently the flaps fully open. The ligand binding rate predicted from this kinetic model increases by 38-fold from 285 to 309 K, which is in general agreement with experiments. To our knowledge, this is the first application of a network model constructed from atomistic simulations together with TPT to analyze conformational changes between different functional states of a natively folded protein.