The effect of high pressure on the NMDA receptor: molecular dynamics simulations

Alice Bliznyuk, Yoram Grossman, Yevgeny Moskovitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Professional divers exposed to ambient pressures above 11 bar develop the high pressure neurological syndrome (HPNS), manifesting as central nervous system (CNS) hyperexcitability, motor disturbances, sensory impairment, and cognitive deficits. The glutamate-type N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) has been implicated in the CNS hyperexcitability of HPNS. NMDARs containing different subunits exhibited varying degrees of increased/decreased current at high pressure. The mechanisms underlying this phenomenon remain unclear. We performed 100 ns molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of the NMDAR structure embedded in a dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC) lipid bilayer solvated in water at 1 bar, hydrostatic 25 bar, and in helium at 25 bar. MD simulations showed that in contrast to hydrostatic pressure, high pressure helium causes substantial distortion of the DOPC membrane due to its accumulation between the two monolayers: reduction of the Sn-1 and Sn-2 DOPC chains and helium-dependent dehydration of the NMDAR pore. Further analysis of important regions of the NMDAR protein such as pore surface (M2 α-helix), Mg2+ binding site, and TMD-M4 α-helix revealed significant effects of helium. In contrast with previous models, these and our earlier results suggest that high pressure helium, not hydrostatic pressure per se, alters the receptor tertiary structure via protein-lipid interactions. Helium in divers’ breathing mixtures may partially contribute to HPNS symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10814
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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