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Role of TM3 in claudin-15 strand flexibility: A molecular dynamics study

Claudins are cell-cell adhesion proteins within tight junctions that connect epithelial cells together. Claudins polymerize into a network of strand-like structures within the membrane of adjoining cells and create ion channels that control paracellular permeability to water and small molecules. Tight junction morphology and barrier function is tissue specific and regulated by claudin subtypes. Here, we present a molecular dynamics study of claudin-15 strands within lipid membranes and the role of a single-point mutation (A134P) on the third transmembrane helix (TM3) of claudin-15 in determining the morphology of the strand. Our results indicate that the A134P mutation significantly affects the lateral flexibility of the strands, increasing the persistence length of claudin-15 strands by a factor of three. Analyses of claudin-claudin contact in our μsecond-long trajectories show that the mutation does not alter the intermolecular contacts (interfaces) between claudins. However, the dynamics and frequency of interfacial contacts are significantly affected. The A134P mutation introduces a kink in TM3 of claudin-15 similar to the one observed in claudin-3 crystal structure. The kink on TM3 skews the rotational flexibility of the claudins in the strands and limits their fluctuation in one direction. This asymmetric movement in the context of the double rows reduces the lateral flexibility of the strand and leads to higher persistence lengths of the mutant.

Molecular mechanism of claudin-15 strand flexibility: A computational study

Claudins are one of the major components of tight junctions that play a key role in the formation and maintenance of the epithelial barrier function. Tight junction strands are dynamic and capable of adapting their structure in response to large-scale tissue rearrangement and cellular movement. Here, we present molecular dynamics simulations of claudin-15 strands of up to 225 nm in length in two parallel lipid membranes and characterize their mechanical properties. The persistence length of claudin-15 strands is comparable with those obtained from analyses of freeze-fracture electron microscopy. Our results indicate that lateral flexibility of claudin strands is due to an interplay of three sets of interfacial interaction networks between two antiparallel double rows of claudins in the membranes. In this model, claudins are assembled into interlocking tetrameric ion channels along the strand that slide with respect to each other as the strands curve over submicrometer-length scales. These results suggest a novel molecular mechanism underlying claudin-15 strand flexibility. It also sheds light on intermolecular interactions and their role in maintaining epithelial barrier function.

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