Conformational motions of proteins are necessary for their functions. To date, experimental studies measuring conformational fluctuations of a whole protein structure have revealed that water molecules hydrating proteins are necessary to induce protein functional motions. However, the underlying microscopic mechanism behind such regulation remains unsolved. To clarify the mechanism, multi-domain proteins are good targets because it is obvious that water molecules between domains play an important role in domain motions. Here, we show how changes in hydration structure microscopically correlate with large-amplitude motions of a multi-domain protein, through molecular dynamics simulation supported by structural analyses and biochemical experiments. We first identified collective domain motions of the protein, which open/close an active-site cleft between domains. The analyses on changes in hydration structure revealed that changes in local hydration in the depth of the cleft are necessary for the domain motion and vice versa. In particular, 'wetting'/'drying' at a hydrophobic pocket and 'adsorption'/'dissociation' of a few water molecules at a hydrophilic crevice in the cleft were induced by dynamic rearrangements of hydrogen-bond networks, and worked as a switch for the domain motions. Our results microscopically demonstrated the importance of hydrogen-bond networks of water molecules in understanding energy landscapes of protein motions.
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