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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Diffusion of hydrophobin proteins in solution and interactions with a graphite surface

Paolo Mereghetti12 and Rebecca C Wade1

Author Affiliations

1 Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) gGmbH, Schloß-Wolfsbrunnenweg 35, 69118 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing (IWR), University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 368, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany

BMC Biophysics 2011, 4:9  doi:10.1186/2046-1682-4-9

Published: 21 April 2011



Hydrophobins are small proteins produced by filamentous fungi that have a variety of biological functions including coating of spores and surface adhesion. To accomplish these functions, they rely on unique interface-binding properties. Using atomic-detail implicit solvent rigid-body Brownian dynamics simulations, we studied the diffusion of HFBI, a class II hydrophobin from Trichoderma reesei, in aqueous solution in the presence and absence of a graphite surface.


In the simulations, HFBI exists in solution as a mixture of monomers in equilibrium with different types of oligomers. The oligomerization state depends on the conformation of HFBI. When a Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) layer is present in the simulated system, HFBI tends to interact with the HOPG layer through a hydrophobic patch on the protein.


From the simulations of HFBI solutions, we identify a tetrameric encounter complex stabilized by non-polar interactions between the aliphatic residues in the hydrophobic patch on HFBI. After the formation of the encounter complex, a local structural rearrangement at the protein interfaces is required to obtain the tetrameric arrangement seen in HFBI crystals. Simulations performed with the graphite surface show that, due to a combination of a geometric hindrance and the interaction of the aliphatic sidechains with the graphite layer, HFBI proteins tend to accumulate close to the hydrophobic surface.