Brownian dynamics simulation of macromolecule diffusion in a protocell
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The interiors of all living cells are highly crowded with macro molecules, which differs considerably the thermodynamics and kinetics of biological reactions between in vivo and in vitro. For example, the diffusion of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in E. coli is ~10-fold slower than in dilute conditions. In this study, we performed Brownian dynamics (BD) simulations of rigid macromolecules in a crowded environment mimicking the cytosol of E. coli to study the motions of macromolecules. The simulation systems contained 35 70S ribosomes, 750 glycolytic enzymes, 75 GFPs, and 392 tRNAs in a 100 nm × 100 nm × 100 nm simulation box, where the macromolecules were represented by rigid-objects of one bead per amino acid or four beads per nucleotide models. Diffusion tensors of these molecules in dilute solutions were estimated by using a hydrodynamic theory to take into account the diffusion anisotropy of arbitrary shaped objects in the BD simulations. BD simulations of the system where each macromolecule is represented by its Stokes radius were also performed for comparison. Excluded volume effects greatly reduce the mobility of molecules in crowded environments for both molecular-shaped and equivalent sphere systems. Additionally, there were no significant differences in the reduction of diffusivity over the entire range of molecular size between two systems. However, the reduction in diffusion of GFP in these systems was still 4-5 times larger than for the in vivo experiment. We will discuss other plausible factors that might cause the large reduction in diffusion in vivo.