Digging into lipid membrane permeation for cardiac ion channel blocker d-sotalol with all-atom simulations

Kevin R. DeMarco, Slava Bekker, Colleen E Clancy, Sergei Y. Noskov, Igor Vorobyov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Interactions of drug molecules with lipid membranes play crucial role in their accessibility of cellular targets and can be an important predictor of their therapeutic and safety profiles. Very little is known about spatial localization of various drugs in the lipid bilayers, their active form (ionization state) or translocation rates and therefore potency to bind to different sites in membrane proteins. All-atom molecular simulations may help to map drug partitioning kinetics and thermodynamics, thus providing in-depth assessment of drug lipophilicity. As a proof of principle, we evaluated extensively lipid membrane partitioning of d-sotalol, well-known blocker of a cardiac potassium channel Kv11.1 encoded by the hERG gene, with reported substantial proclivity for arrhythmogenesis. We developed the positively charged (cationic) and neutral d-sotalol models, compatible with the biomolecular CHARMM force field, and subjected them to all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of drug partitioning through hydrated lipid membranes, aiming to elucidate thermodynamics and kinetics of their translocation and thus putative propensities for hydrophobic and aqueous hERG access. We found that only a neutral form of d-sotalol accumulates in the membrane interior and can move across the bilayer within millisecond time scale, and can be relevant to a lipophilic channel access. The computed water-membrane partitioning coefficient for this form is in good agreement with experiment. There is a large energetic barrier for a cationic form of the drug, dominant in water, to cross the membrane, resulting in slow membrane translocation kinetics. However, this form of the drug can be important for an aqueous access pathway through the intracellular gate of hERG. This route will likely occur after a neutral form of a drug crosses the membrane and subsequently re-protonates. Our study serves to demonstrate a first step toward a framework for multi-scale in silico safety pharmacology, and identifies some of the challenges that lie therein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Cardiotoxicity
  • CHARMM force field
  • hERG
  • Lipophilicity
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Umbrella sampling
  • Water-membrane partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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