Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 2010, 1, 216-223 ABB
doi:10.4236/abb.2010.13030 Published Online August 2010 (
Published Online August 2010 in SciRes.
Molecular dynamics simulations of valinomycin interactions
with potassium and sodium ions in water solvent
Kholmirzo Kholmurodov1,2, Maria Abasheva2, Kenji Yasuoka3
1Laboratory of Radiation Biology, Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, Dubna, Russia;
2Dubna International University, Dubna, Russia;
3Department of Mechanical Engineering, Keio University, Yokohama, Japan.
Received 17 June 2010; revised 25 June 2010; accepted 26 June 2010.
The aim of this work is to estimate the value of the
electric field (potentials) for the system of valinomy-
cin + К+ and Na+ ions based on a molecular dynamics
(MD) study. An analysis has been performed of the
interaction processes for the system of valinomycin +
К+(Na+) ion in water solvent. It is obtained that cap-
turing a К+(Na+) ion in the valinomycin cavity is not
possible for all values of the electric field strength.
Each of the two kinds of ions (К+ or Na+) has its own
critical electric field associated with ion binding to
valinomycin, for which to exist, the ion has to remain
localized inside the valinomycin cavity. The results
obtained for the electrical potential reveal a stronger
valinomycin binding—especially with the potassium
ion. Valinomycin’s molecular structure efficiently
surrounds the K+ ion, as this structure has to exactly
correspond to the K+ ion in size. MD simulation re-
sults could be a prerequisite for studying a more
complex scenario—for estimating ion transport in the
cell membrane or physiological electric potential
which is formed in the membrane or inside the cell
relative to its surrounding medium.
Keywords: Molecular Dynamics Simulations;
Valinomycin; Potassium and Sodium Ions
Valinomycin was extracted for the first time from
Streptomyces fulvissimus bacteria in 1955; in 1967, it
was established that as a transporter, valinomycin cata-
lyzes the exchange of K+ and H+ through a mitochon-
drial cell membrane, thereby causing no changes in the
Na+ concentration [1-3]. In biological membranes, there
are several kinds of ionic pumps, which work at the
expense of the free energy of ATP hydrolysis—a special
Na+/K+-ATPase system of integrated proteins known as
the sodium-potassium pump. The ATPase mechanism of
ion transport is realized as a transfer process conjugated
with chemical reactions, which goes at the expense of the
cell metabolism energies. During the functioning of the
Na+/K+-ATPase at the expense of the chemical binding
energeis released in the hydrolysis of each ATP molecule,
two sodium ions transfer into the cell with the simul-
taneous extraction of three potassium ions. Thus, an
electric potential gradient is formed due to an increase in
the concentration of potassium ions in comparison to that
of the interstitial media and a decrease in the sodium
concentration, which is physiologically important.
Specifically in neurons, the combination of the two
mechanisms mentioned above corresponding to their
state of rest is responsible for dynamical equilibrium
stability. The internal sodium concentration in cells is ten
times lower than in surrounding media; at the same time,
the potassium concentration is ten times higher. Such a
disbalance tends to equilibrate the streams going through
narrow pores of the cell membrane. To control the
necessary ion concentration in the cell, the membrane
protein molecules (called “sodium pumps”) continu-
iously pump potassium from, and sodium into, the cell.
Each pump is able to transfer about 200 sodium ions and
130 potassium ions per second. A neuron, for example,
does about a million of such pumps that transfer hun-
dreds of millions of potassium and sodium ions through
a cell membrane per second [2-4].
The potassium concentration in the cell is influenced
by a large number of open potassium chanells (i.e.
protein molecules), which allow potassium ions to pass
easily into the cell but suppress sodium ions passing
through. For the transfer of potassium ions and other
particles into the cell, special membrane transport
proteins must be responsible. Valinomycin is an example
of a transporter protein for potassium ions. Valinomycin
has a macrocyclic (ring) structure as shown in Figures
1(a) and (b). The valinomycin molecule is highly
selective to potassium ions as compared to sodium ions
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Figure 1. The valinomycin configuration. (a) a view from the
molecule plane; (b) a side view. The color spheres represent
nitrogen (blue), carbon (blue), hydrogen (white), and oxygen
(red) atoms. The six oxygen atoms which are able to capture
external solvent ions are denoted as Oe.
within the cell membrane; it has 12 carbonyl groups for
the binding of metal ions, and also for solvation in a
polar solvent. The isopropyl groups and methyl groups
are responsible for solvation in nonpolar solvents. Along
with the molecule’s shape and size, this molecular
duality is the main reason for its binding properties. In
polar solvents, valinomycin will mainly expose the
carbonyls to the solvent; in nonpolar solvents, the iso-
propyl groups are located predominantly on the exterior
of the molecule. This conformation will change as
valinomycin binds to a potassium ion. The molecule is
“locked” into a conformation with the isopropyl groups
on the exterior. Due to its chemical structure, valino-
mycin is able to form a complex with a potassium ion
captured by the molecule—inside its ring; on the other
hand, valinomycin is easily solvable in the membrane
lipid phase—it is non-polar on the exterior part. Thus,
the valinomycin molecules that are positioned on a
membrane surface capture potassium ions from the
surrounding solvent; then potassium ions are transferred
by valinomycin by means of diffusion in the membrane,
and, finally, ions are released in the solvent on the other
side of the cell membrane. A gradient of the ion con-
centration in the cell membrane is thereby created; an
electric potential relative to the cell surrounding varies
from –70 mV to +50 mV. The potential stimulates a
synaptic signal transmission necessary for biological
functions [3-6].
In this work, based on the molecular dynamics (MD)
simulation, we aimed to measure the electric field
strength (potential gradients) for the model systems
describing valinomycin with potassium (K+) and sodium
(Na+) ions. To calculate electrostatics interactions, we
used a reaction field algorithm [7]. We performed an
MD analysis in comparison with the physiological data
on the cell electric potential outlined above. It should be
noted that MD simulation is one of the most applicable
techniques used to study valinomycin’s dynamical and
equilibrium properties in biological systems. For the
valinomycin interaction with different cations and
solutions, see, for example, references [8-10]. In [8],
valinomycin selectivity for the transport of potassium
ions (and not sodium ions) is studied by MD simulation.
The process of potassium ion capture by a valinomycin
molecule is illustrated in [9]. An estimation of the energy
of the cation binding to valinomycin is performed in
The starting configuration of the molecular system con-
sisting of valinomycin with potassium ions is shown in
Figure 1. We have used periodic boundary conditions
for all spatial axes; the geometry of the system configu-
ration was a truncated octahedron with the side length of
42,86Å. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have
been performed using the DL_POLY code, which was
developed by the molecular simulation group at the
Daresbury Laboratory (England) with the support of the
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Figure 2. A valinomycin molecule (a triangular shape chain is
in the center) surrounded by potassium ions (green spheres)
and water molecules (red and white are oxygens and hydrogens,
Research Council for Engineering and Physical Sciences
(project CCP5 for simulating condensed phases).
DL_POLY is a general-purpose MD simulation package
developed by W. Smith, T.P. Forester, and I.T. Todorov
[11]. We have employed version 2.19 of the DL_POLY;
the initial geometry of the biphenyl molecule was chosen
from the database of the program package at:
The configurational energy of the molecular model is
represented as a sum of the energies of binding (Eval) and
non-binding (Enb) interactions:
E = Eval + Enb. (1)
The energy of valence (binding) interactions Eval is
given by the following formula:
Eval = Eimb + Eang + Edih + Einv, (2)
where Eimb is the energy of intermolecular bonds, Eang is
the energy of angular bonds, Edih is the energy of dihe-
dral bonds, and Einv is inversion energy.
The energy of the non-valence (non-bound) interac-
tions is a sum of the energies of the van der Waals (vdW),
electrostatics (Coulomb), and hydrogen bonds:
Enb = EvdW + Ecoul + Ehb. (3)
The valinomycin molecule consists of 168 atoms; the
number of K+(Na+) ions was 109. The water molecules
were simulated as 3-site rigid bodies; the total number of
water atoms was 3339 (1113 × 3). Computer simulations
were performed for a constant temperature of 300 K
using the Nose – Hoover algorithm with the thermostat
relaxation constant of 2 ps. For the van der Waals inter-
actions, we have used the Lennard – Jones (LJ) potential.
The interaction potential parameters and atomic masses
and charges are shown in Tables 1 an d 2. The integra-
tion of the equations of motion was performed using the
Verle integration scheme in quaternion. The integration
step was 2 fs (femtoseconds). The intermolecular che-
mical bonds were estimated on the basis of the Shake
algorithm to an accuracy of 10-8.
The electrostatics forces were calculated using the so-
called “reaction field” algorithm [7,11]. In this method,
the molecule is surrounded by a spherical cavern of a
limited radius where the electrostatics forces are calcu-
lated directly. Outside of the cavern, the system is repre-
sented as a dielectric continuum. In the reaction field
algorithm, the Coulomb potential has the following
Table 1. The Lennard – Jones (LJ) potential parameters for different atomic pairs.
Atomic pair Potential Functional form Parametersε, kcal/mol σ, Å
C-C LJ 12 6
 
 
 
ε, σ 0.12 3.30
H-H … … 0.02 1.78
N-N … …
0.16 3.12
O-O … …
0.20 2.85
OS-OS … …
0.15 2.94
Oe-Oe … …
0.20 2.85
OW-OW … …
0.16 3.17
HW-HW … …
0.02 1.78
K-K … …
0.32 3.13
Na-Na … …
0.08 2.73
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Table 2. The mass and charge values in the system of valino-
mycin + K+(Na+) ion + water.
Mass m
(me, a.m.u.)
Charge q
(e, proton charge)
C 12.01 +0.47
H 1.00 +0.21
N 14.01 –0.40
O 16.00 –0.41
OS 16.00 –0.46
Oe 16.00 –0.41
OW 15.99 –0.82
HW 1.00 +0.41
K 39.10 +1.00
Na 23.00 +1.00
() 42
njj n
nj c
Urqq rR
where Rc is a cavern radius, the constant B0 is the dielec-
tric constant of the continuum media, and
2( 1)
(2 1)
The non-bound vdW forces are calculated using the
LJ potential of the standard form:
12 6
() 4Ur rr
 
 
 
For different atoms, we applied the following aver-
aged relations (the Lorentz–Berthelot combining rules):
ijii jj
and 1()
ijii jj
In Table 2, the mass and charge values are presented
for the system of valinomycin + K+(Na+) ion + water
used in molecular dynamics simulations.
We have fulfilled a series of MD calculations for the
systems of valinomycin + K+ ions + water and
valinomycin + Na+ + water with the same simulation
parameters and temperature-pressure conditions as de-
scribed above. In order to control the motion of K+(Na+)
ions directed exactly to the valinomycin cavity (ring), an
external electric field of different fixed strength values
was applied. Without an external field, valinomycin’s
interaction with K+(Na+) ions takes place only in the
vicinity of the molecule, but the ions do not enter the
cavity itself. In Figures 3(a) and (b), we present the
initial configuration of the valinomycin + K+ ions, where
the electric field is directed normally to the molecule
plane (water molecules are not shown). The orientation
of valinomycin during the whole time of dynamical
Figure 3. The valinomycin orientation (a) and the electric field
direction (b) for potassium ions. The water molecules are not
changes was fixed in space, so that the valinomycin
molecule would be able only to vibrate (oscillate); the
directional mobility of the valinomycin molecule was
fixed in the initial position. In such conditions, valino-
mycin’s interaction with K+(Na+) ions and water mole-
cules happen efficiently in the cavity (ring) region. Fig-
ures 4 (a) and (b) shows the equilibrium configuration
of the valinomycin + Na+ ions surrounded by water
molecules; six consequent snapshots show the valino-
mycin structure with a Na+ ion passing through the cav-
It should be noted that K+(Na+) ion passing through
valinomycin’s ring is not possible for all (arbitrarily)
values of the electric field. Namely, for each ion type
(K+ or Na+), a critical electric field value exists under
which the ion remains captured (localized) in valino-
mycin’s ring cavity. The MD simulation results pre-
sented in Figures 5-8 illustrtate K+ ion localization
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Figure 4. The valinomycin configuration (a) surrounded by sodium ions (blue spheres) in water. Six consequent configurations of
valinomycin and a sodium ion penetrating into the cavity are shown (b). The snapshots correspond to the time moments of t = 0, 1, 2,
3, 5 and 10 ps (the electric field is directed from left to right).
(capture) by a valinomycin molecule inside the ring cav-
ity. In Figure 5, the consequent dynamical configura-
tions for valinomycin + K+ ion are shown. In Figures 6
(a)-(c), trajectory diagrams are presented for three ions
moving outside of valinomycin’s localization region. The
diagrams in Figures 6(a)-(c) represent motion of ions in
a periodic geometry. Figure 7(a) displays the trajectory
diagram of a K+ ion captured by valinomycin’s localiza-
tion ring. Figure 7(b) shows the consequent configura-
tions of the system in the localization region.
Let us estimate the K+(Na+) binding with a valino-
mycin molecule based on the critical values of the elec-
tric field. The simulation results show different critical
values for K+ and Na+ ions. The critical values correlate
with the difference in the ion masses (K/Na = 39.1/23.0).
A summary of MD simulation results is presented in Ta-
ble 3. It is seen that the critical electrical field, under
which the ion remains localized inside valinomycin’s
ring, is about 150 mV for K+ and about 90 mV for Na+.
The critical values of the electrical field shown in Table
3 can be associated with the chemical binding strength
between the ions and the valinomycin molecule. In our
estimation of Ucr in Table 3, we used the following sim-
ple relation: Ucr = Ecrd, where d~3Å was chosen as a
length of valinomycin’s active region (the ring’s cross
section length).
Ucr(K+) ~ 5 × 108 N/Q × 3 × 10-10 m ~ 150mV;
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Figure 5. Six consequent configurations of valinomycin with potassium ions (green spheres). The snapshots correspond to the time
moments of t = 0, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 ps (views from left to right and from top to bottom).
(a) (b) (c)
Figure 6. A trajectory diagram of three potassium ions that are outside of valinomycin’s ring (outside of the ion localization in the
valinomycin cavity).
Ucr(Na+) ~ 3 × 106 N/Q × 3 × 10-10 m ~ 90mV.
In summary, the external electric field has been used
to estimate the strength of two major (K+ and Na+) ion
bindings with the valinomycin molecule in water solvent.
A stronger valinomycin binding with the potassium ion
is clearly observed. It is well known that the valinomy-
cin molecular structure is folded in such a way that its
chain conformation efficiently surrounds a metal cation
[1-6,8-10,12]. Valinomycin is selective to the K+ ion,
because it folds in such a way that it forms an almost
octahedral structure via its strong (non-polarizable) do-
nors: carbonyl’s hydrogen atoms. This structure has to
exactly correspond to the K+ ion in size.
The ratio of the critical electrical potentials Ucr(K+)/
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
Figure 7. A trajectory diagram of a potassium ion captured by
a valinomycin molecule (a). Three consequent configurations
(b) show the ion position inside the valinomycin localization
Table 3. The values of the critical electric fields for K+ and
Na+ ions.
Critical electric field K+ Na+
Ecr, × 108 N/Q 5 3
Ucr, × 10-3 V 150 90
Figure 8. The valinomycin configuration with potassium ions
localized in the ring cavity.
Ucr(Na+)~1.7 implies a stronger binding of valinomycin
+ K+ compared to that of valinomycin + Na+, which re-
sults in binding energy estimation that W(K+) > W(Na+).
The binding for valinomycin + K+ is energetically
stronger, which correlates well with a number of ex-
perimental observations. For example, in experimental
salt extraction equilibrium measurements [13], the Na+
K+ ion replacement revealed that valinomycin prefers
binding K+ to Na+ by –5.4 kcal/mol. Other experimental
studies of the permeability ratio in lipid membranes [14]
show that valinomycin selects K+ rather than Na+ with a
selectivity of about –6 kcal/mol. The correlation of the
simulation results and experimental X-ray crystal struc-
ture measurements and related studies of a strongly se-
lective K channel is straightforward [14-17].
The MD simulation results could be a prerequisite for
studying a more complex scenario—for example, protein
-ion interactions involving valinomycin together with
potassium and sodium ions. It should also be noted that
some correlation can be found between the obtained
values of the critical electric field strength and the elec-
tric potential which is formed in the cell membrane or
inside the cell (~100 mV) relative to its surrounding me-
dium. This aspect, however, is worth a more detailed
study due to its complexity (in particular, the specifics of
the cell membrane like its molecular formation, cross
section size, etc. are more complex in terms of struc-
This work has been fulfilled under joint collaboration projects of JINR,
RussiaDaresbury Laboratory, UKKeio University, Japan. We
K. Kholmurodov et al. / Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology 1 (2010) 216-223
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. ABB
would like to thank Prof. William Smith for the software support. This
work was supported in part by Grant in Aid for the Global Center of
Excellence Program for “Center for Education and Research of Sym-
biotic, Safe and Secure System Design” from the Ministry of Educa-
tion, Culture, Sport, and Technology in Japan.
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