Molecular Simulation of Lignin-Related Aromatic Compound Permeation through Gram-Negative Bacterial Outer Membranes

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Lignin, an abundant aromatic heteropolymer in secondary plant cell walls, is the single largest source of renewable aromatics in the biosphere. Leveraging this resource for renewable bioproducts through targeted microbial action depends on lignin fragment uptake by microbial hosts and subsequent enzymatic action to obtain the desired product. Recent computational work has emphasized that bacterial inner membranes are permeable to many aromatic compounds expected from lignin depolymerization processes. In this study, we expand on these findings through simulations for 42 lignin-related compounds across a gram-negative bacterial outer membrane model. Unbiased simulation trajectories indicate that spontaneous crossing for the full outer membrane is relatively rare at molecular simulation timescales, primarily due to preferential membrane partitioning and slow diffusion within the lipopolysaccharide layer within the outer membrane. Membrane partitioning and permeability coefficients were determined through replica exchange umbrella sampling simulations to overcome sampling limitations. We find that the glycosylated lipopolysaccharides found in the outer membrane increase the permeation barrier to many lignin-related compounds, particularly the most hydrophobic compounds. However, the effect is relatively modest; at industrially relevant concentrations, uncharged lignin-related compounds will readily diffuse across the outer membrane without the need for specific porins. Together, our results provide insight into the permeability of the bacterial outer membrane for assessing lignin fragment uptake and the future production of renewable bioproducts.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 102627
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2A00-84373


  • aromatic compounds
  • bioproducts
  • gram-negative bacterial outer membrane model
  • lignin
  • lignin fragment uptake
  • permeability


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