Leveraging Machine Learning-Guided Molecular Simulations Coupled with Experimental Data to Decipher Membrane Binding Mechanisms of Aminosterols

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Understanding the molecular mechanisms of the interactions between specific compounds and cellular membranes is essential for numerous biotechnological applications, including targeted drug delivery, elucidation of drug mechanism of action, pathogen identification, and novel antibiotic development. However, the estimation of the free energy landscape associated with solute binding to realistic biological systems is still a challenging task. In this work, we leverage the Time-lagged Independent Component Analysis (TICA) in combination with neural networks (NN) through the Deep-TICA approach for determining the free energy associated with the membrane insertion processes of two natural aminosterol compounds, trodusquemine (TRO) and squalamine (SQ). These compounds are particularly noteworthy because they interact with the outer layer of neuron membranes protecting them from the toxic action of misfolded proteins involved in neurodegenerative disorders, both in their monomeric and oligomeric forms. We demonstrate how this strategy could be used to generate an effective collective variable for describing solute absorption in the membrane and for estimating free energy landscape of translocation via On-the-fly probability enhanced sampling (OPES) method. In this context, the computational protocol allowed an exhaustive characterization of the aminosterols entry pathway into a neuron-like lipid bilayer. Furthermore, it provided accurate prediction of membrane binding affinities, in close agreement with the experimental binding data obtained by using fluorescently-labelled aminosterols and large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs). The findings contribute significantly to our comprehension of aminosterol entry pathways and aminosterol-lipid membrane interactions. Finally, the deployed computational methods in this study further demonstrate considerable potential for investigating membrane binding processes.

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