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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: PLoS computational biology.

2013 Jun;9(6):e1003090.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003090. Copyright © PLoS


Despite the clinical ubiquity of anesthesia, the molecular basis of anesthetic action is poorly understood. Amongst the many molecular targets proposed to contribute to anesthetic effects, the voltage gated sodium channels (VGSCs) should also be considered relevant, as they have been shown to be sensitive to all general anesthetics tested thus far. However, binding sites for VGSCs have not been identified. Moreover, the mechanism of inhibition is still largely unknown. The recently reported atomic structures of several members of the bacterial VGSC family offer the opportunity to shed light on the mechanism of action of anesthetics on these important ion channels. To this end, we have performed a molecular dynamics "flooding" simulation on a membrane-bound structural model of the archetypal bacterial VGSC, NaChBac in a closed pore conformation. This computation allowed us to identify binding sites and access pathways for the commonly used volatile general anesthetic, isoflurane. Three sites have been characterized with binding affinities in a physiologically relevant range. Interestingly, one of the most favorable sites is in the pore of the channel, suggesting that the binding sites of local and general anesthetics may overlap. Surprisingly, even though the activation gate of the channel is closed, and therefore the pore and the aqueous compartment at the intracellular side are disconnected, we observe binding of isoflurane in the central cavity. Several sampled association and dissociation events in the central cavity provide consistent support to the hypothesis that the "fenestrations" present in the membrane-embedded region of the channel act as the long-hypothesized hydrophobic drug access pathway.