Hydrated Excess Protons Can Create Their Own Water Wires
Grotthuss shuttling of an excess proton charge defect through hydrogen bonded water networks has long been the focus of theoretical and experimental studies. In this work we show that there is a related process in which water molecules move ("shuttle") through a hydrated excess proton charge defect in order to wet the path ahead for subsequent proton charge migration. This process is illustrated through reactive molecular dynamics simulations of proton transport through a hydrophobic nanotube, which penetrates through a hydrophobic region. Surprisingly, before the proton enters the nanotube, it starts "shooting" water molecules into the otherwise dry space via Grotthuss shuttling, effectively creating its own water wire where none existed before. As the proton enters the nanotube (by 2-3 Å), it completes the solvation process, transitioning the nanotube to the fully wet state. By contrast, other monatomic cations (e.g., K<sup>+</sup>) have just the opposite effect, by blocking the wetting process and making the nanotube even drier. As the dry nanotube gradually becomes wet when the proton charge defect enters it, the free energy barrier of proton permeation through the tube via Grotthuss shuttling drops significantly. This finding suggests that an important wetting mechanism may influence proton translocation in biological systems, i.e., one in which protons "create" their own water structures (water "wires") in hydrophobic spaces (e.g., protein pores) before migrating through them. An existing water wire, e.g., one seen in an X-ray crystal structure or MD simulations without an explicit excess proton, is therefore not a requirement for protons to transport through hydrophobic spaces. (Figure Presented).