Free Energy Calculations on the Two Drug Binding Sites in the M2 Proton Channel

Two alternative binding sites of adamantane-type drugs in the influenza A M2 channel have been suggested, one with the drug binding inside the channel pore and the other with four drug molecule S-binding to the C-terminal surface of the transmembrane domain. Recent computational and experimental studies have suggested that the pore binding site is more energetically favorable but the external surface binding site may also exist. Nonetheless, which drug binding site leads to channel inhibition in vivo and how drug-resistant mutations affect these sites are not completely understood. We applied molecular dynamics simulations and potential of mean force calculations to examine the structures and the free energies associated with these putative drug binding sites in an M2–lipid bilayer system. We found that, at biological pH (∼7.4), the pore binding site is more thermodynamically favorable than the surface binding site by ∼7 kcal/mol and, hence, would lead to more stable drug binding and channel inhibition. This result is in excellent agreement with several recent studies. More importantly, a novel finding of ours is that binding to the channel pore requires overcoming a much higher energy barrier of ∼10 kcal/mol than binding to the C-terminal channel surface, indicating that the latter site is more kinetically favorable. Our study is the first computational work that provides both kinetic and thermodynamic energy information on these drug binding sites. Our results provide a theoretical framework to interpret and reconcile existing and often conflicting results regarding these two binding sites, thus helping to expand our understanding of M2–drug binding, and may help guide the design and screening of novel drugs to combat the virus.