Gating in channels and nanopores plays a key role in regulating flow of ions across membranes. Molecular simulations provide a ‘computational microscope’ which enables us to examine the physical nature of gating mechanisms at the level of the single channel molecule. Water enclosed within the confines of a nanoscale pore may exhibit unexpected behaviour. In particular, if the molecular surfaces lining the pore are hydrophobic this promotes de-wetting of the pore. De-wetting is observed as stochastic liquid–vapour transitions within a pore, and may lead to functional closure of a pore to the flow of ions and/or water. Such behaviour was first observed in simulations of simple model nanopores and referred to as ‘hydrophobic gating’. Simulations of both the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and of TWIK-1 potassium channels (the latter alongside experimental studies) suggest hydrophobic gating may occur in some biological ion channels. Current studies are focused on designing hydrophobic gates into biomimetic nanopores.

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