Mycobacteria, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, are characterized by a uniquely thick and waxy cell envelope that consists of two membranes, with a variety of mycolates comprising their outer membrane (OM). The protein Mycobacterial membrane protein Large 3 (MmpL3) is responsible for the transport of a primary OM component, trehalose monomycolate (TMM), from the inner (cytoplasmic) membrane (IM) to the periplasmic space, a process driven by the proton gradient. Although multiple structures of MmpL3 with bound substrates have been solved, the exact pathway(s) for TMM or proton transport remains elusive. Here, employing molecular dynamics simulations we investigate putative pathways for either transport species. We hypothesized that MmpL3 will cycle through similar conformational states as the related transporter AcrB, which we used as targets for modeling the conformation of MmpL3. A continuous water pathway through the transmembrane region was found in one of these states, illustrating a putative pathway for protons. Additional equilibrium simulations revealed that TMM can diffuse from the membrane into a binding pocket in MmpL3 spontaneously. We also found that acetylation of TMM, which is required for transport, makes it more stable within MmpL3's periplasmic cavity compared with the unacetylated form.
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