Biophysical Journal

Characterization of the lipid-binding site of equinatoxin II by NMR and molecular dynamics simulation

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Equinatoxin II (EqtII) is a soluble, 20 kDa pore-forming protein toxin isolated from the sea anemone Actinia equina. Although pore formation has long been known to occur in distinct stages, including monomeric attachment to phospholipid membranes followed by detachment of the N-terminal helical domain and oligomerization into the final pore assembly, atomistic-level detail of the protein-lipid interactions underlying these events remains elusive. Using high-resolution solution state NMR of uniformly-<sup>15</sup>N-labeled EqtII at the critical micelle concentration of dodecylphosphocholine, we have mapped the lipid-binding site through chemical shift perturbations. Subsequent docking of an EqtII monomer onto a dodecylphosphocholine micelle, followed by 400 ns of all-atom molecular dynamics simulation, saw several high-occupancy lipid-binding pockets stabilized by cation-π, hydrogen bonding, and hydrophobic interactions; and stabilization of the loop housing the conserved arginine-glycine-aspartate motif. Additional simulation of EqtII with an N-acetyl sphingomyelin micelle, for which high-resolution NMR data cannot be obtained due to aggregate formation, revealed that sphingomyelin specificity might occur via hydrogen bonding to the 3-OH and 2-NH groups unique to the ceramide backbone by side chains of D109 and Y113; and main chains of P81 and W112. Furthermore, a binding pocket formed by K30, K77, and P81, proximate to the hinge region of the N-terminal helix, was identified and may be implicated in triggering pore formation.