All-atom simulations of crowding effects on ubiquitin dynamics
It is well-known that crowded environments affect the stability of proteins, with strong biological and biotechnological implications; however, beyond this, crowding is also expected to affect the dynamic properties of proteins, an idea that is hard to probe experimentally. Here we report on a simulation study aimed at evaluating the effects of crowding on internal protein dynamics, based on fully all-atom descriptions of the protein, the solvent and the crowder. Our model system consists of ubiquitin, a protein whose dynamic features are closely related to its ability to bind to multiple partners, in a 325 g L-1 solution of glucose in water, a condition widely employed in in vitro studies of crowding effects. We observe a slight reduction in loop flexibility accompanied by a dramatic restriction of the conformational space explored in the timescale of the simulations (similar to 0.5 mu s), indicating that crowding slows down collective motions and the rate of exploration of the conformational space. This effect is attributed to the extensive and long-lasting interactions observed between protein residues and glucose molecules throughout the entire protein surface. Potential implications of the observed effects are discussed.