Understanding the molecular basis of MK2-p38α signaling complex assembly: insights into protein-protein interaction by molecular dynamics and free energy studies.
ABSTRACT The formation of a p38 MAPK and MAPK-activated protein kinase 2 (MK2) signaling complex is physiologically relevant to cellular responses such as the proinflammatory cytokine production. The interaction between p38α isoform and MK2 is of great importance for this signaling. In this study, molecular dynamics simulation and binding free energy calculation were performed on the MK2-p38α signaling complex to investigate the protein-protein interaction between the two proteins. Dynamic domain motion analyses were performed to analyze the conformational changes between the unbound and bound states of proteins during the interaction. The activation loop, αF-I helices, and loops among α helices in the C-lobe of MK2 are found to be highly flexible and exhibit significant changes upon p38α binding. The results also show that after the binding of p38α, the N- and C-terminal domains of MK2 display an opening and twisting motion centered on the activation loop. The molecular mechanics Poisson-Boltzmann and generalized-Born surface area (MM-PB/GBSA) methods were used to calculate binding free energies between MK2 and p38α. The analysis of the components of binding free energy calculation indicates that the van der Waals interaction and the nonpolar solvation energy provide the driving force for the binding process, while the electrostatic interaction contributes critically to the specificity, rather than to MK2-p38α binding affinity. The contribution of each residue at the interaction interface to the binding affinity of MK2 with p38α was also analyzed by free energy decomposition. Several important residues responsible for the protein-protein interaction were also identified.