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1.  Purification, crystallization and preliminary X-ray analysis of a fusion of the LIM domains of LMO2 and the LID domain of Ldb1 
The crystallization and preliminary diffraction analysis of LMO2 in complex with the LID domain of Ldb1 is described. A three-wavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) data set was collected to 2.8 Å resolution at the Zn K edge.
LMO2 (LIM domain only 2), also known as rhombotin-2, is a transcriptional regulator that is essential for normal haematopoietic development. In malignant haematopoiesis, its ectopic expression in T cells is involved in the pathogenesis of leukaemia. LMO2 contains four zinc-finger domains and binds to the ubiquitous nuclear adaptor protein Ldb1 via the LIM-interaction domain (LID). Together, they act as scaffolding proteins and bridge important haematopoietic transcription factors such as SCL/Tal1, E2A and GATA-1. Solving the structure of the LMO2:Ldb1-LID complex would therefore be a first step towards understanding how haematopoietic specific protein complexes form and would also provide an attractive target for drug development in anticancer therapy, especially for T-cell leukaemia. Here, the expression, purification, crystallization and data collection of a fusion protein consisting of the two LIM domains of LMO2 linked to the LID domain of Ldb1 via a flexible linker is reported. The crystals belonged to space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 179.9, b = 51.5, c = 114.7 Å, β = 90.1°, and contained five molecules in the asymmetric unit. Multiple-wavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) data have been collected at the zinc X-ray absorption edge to a resolution of 2.8 Å and the data were used to solve the structure of the LMO2:Ldb1-LID complex. Refinement and analysis of the electron-density map is in progress.
PMCID: PMC3001649  PMID: 21045296
LMO2; Ldb1; LIM; T-cell leukaemia; zinc binding
2.  Crystal structure of cardiac troponin C regulatory domain in complex with cadmium and deoxycholic acid reveals novel conformation 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;413(3):699-711.
The amino-terminal regulatory domain of cardiac troponin C (cNTnC) plays an important role as the calcium sensor for the troponin complex. Calcium binding to cNTnC results in conformational changes that trigger a cascade of events that leads to cardiac muscle contraction. Cardiac NTnC consists of two EF-hand calcium binding motifs, one of which is dysfunctional in binding calcium. Nevertheless, the defunct EF-hand still maintains a role in cNTnC function. For its structural analysis by X-ray crystallography, human cNTnC with wild-type primary sequence was crystallized in a novel crystallization condition. The crystal structure was solved from single wavelength anomalous dispersion method and refined to 2.2 Å resolution. The structure displays several novel features. Firstly, both EF-hand motifs coordinate cadmium ions derived from the crystallization milieu. Secondly, the ion coordination in the defunct EF-hand motif accompanies unusual changes in the protein conformation. Thirdly, deoxycholic acid, also derived from the crystallization milieu, is bound in the central hydrophobic cavity. This is reminiscent of the interactions observed for cardiac calcium sensitizer drugs that bind to the same core region and maintain the ‘open’ conformational state of calcium bound cNTnC. The cadmium ion coordination in the defunct EF-hand indicates that this vestigial calcium binding site retains the structural and functional elements that allow it to coordinate a cadmium ion. However, it is a result of, or concomitant with, large and unusual structural changes in cNTnC.
PMCID: PMC4068330  PMID: 21920370
Troponin C; EF-hand; cadmium ion coordination; deoxycholic acid; radiation damage
3.  Crystallization and preliminary X-ray crystallographic analysis of the oxysterol-binding protein Osh3 from Saccharomyces cerevisiae  
The PH domain and ORD of the oxysterol-binding protein Osh3 from S. cerevisae were crystallized and X-ray diffraction data were collected.
Oxysterol-binding protein (OSBP) related proteins (ORPs) are conserved from yeast to humans and are implicated in regulation of sterol homeostasis and in signal transduction pathways. Osh3 of Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a pleckstrin-homology (PH) domain-containing ORP member that regulates phosphoinositide metabolism at endoplasmic reticulum–plasma membrane contact sites. The N-terminal PH domain of Osh3 was purified and crystallized as a lysozyme fusion and the resulting crystal diffracted to 2.3 Å resolution. The crystal belonged to the monoclinic space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 98.03, b = 91.31, c = 84.13 Å, β = 81.41°. With two molecules in the asymmetric unit, the Matthews coefficient was 3.13 Å3 Da−1. Initial attempts to solve the structure by molecular-replacement techniques using T4 lysozyme as a search model were successful. The C-terminal OSBP-related domain (OBD) of Osh3 was crystallized by the vapour-diffusion method and the resulting crystal diffracted to 1.5 Å resolution. The crystal was orthorhombic, belonging to space group P212121, with unit-cell parameters a = 41.57, b = 87.52, c = 100.58 Å. With one molecule in the asymmetric unit, the Matthews coefficient was 2.01 Å3 Da−1. Initial attempts to solve the structure by the single-wavelength anomalous dispersion technique using bromine were successful.
PMCID: PMC3509973  PMID: 23192032
oxysterol-binding protein; Osh3; Saccharomyces cerevisiae
4.  Structures of Trypanosoma brucei Methionyl-tRNA Synthetase with Urea-Based Inhibitors Provide Guidance for Drug Design against Sleeping Sickness 
Methionyl-tRNA synthetase of Trypanosoma brucei (TbMetRS) is an important target in the development of new antitrypanosomal drugs. The enzyme is essential, highly flexible and displaying a large degree of changes in protein domains and binding pockets in the presence of substrate, product and inhibitors. Targeting this protein will benefit from a profound understanding of how its structure adapts to ligand binding. A series of urea-based inhibitors (UBIs) has been developed with IC50 values as low as 19 nM against the enzyme. The UBIs were shown to be orally available and permeable through the blood-brain barrier, and are therefore candidates for development of drugs for the treatment of late stage human African trypanosomiasis. Here, we expand the structural diversity of inhibitors from the previously reported collection and tested for their inhibitory effect on TbMetRS and on the growth of T. brucei cells. The binding modes and binding pockets of 14 UBIs are revealed by determination of their crystal structures in complex with TbMetRS at resolutions between 2.2 Å to 2.9 Å. The structures show binding of the UBIs through conformational selection, including occupancy of the enlarged methionine pocket and the auxiliary pocket. General principles underlying the affinity of UBIs for TbMetRS are derived from these structures, in particular the optimum way to fill the two binding pockets. The conserved auxiliary pocket might play a role in binding tRNA. In addition, a crystal structure of a ternary TbMetRS•inhibitor•AMPPCP complex indicates that the UBIs are not competing with ATP for binding, instead are interacting with ATP through hydrogen bond. This suggests a possibility that a general ‘ATP-engaging’ binding mode can be utilized for the design and development of inhibitors targeting tRNA synthetases of other disease-causing pathogen.
Author Summary
Infection by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei causes sleeping sickness, also called human African trypanosomiasis. Without treatment, the disease is fatal yet current therapeutic options are inadequate and better medicines are needed. We have previously reported several potent inhibitors of T. brucei methionyl-tRNA synthetase, an essential enzyme involved in the protein biosynthesis. Recently, a new series of the inhibitors was synthesized which has improved membrane permeability over the earlier inhibitors. When applied to mouse with T. brucei infection, the new compounds are orally available and reach the central nervous system to reduce parasite loads, and therefore are promising molecules to be developed into antitrypanosomal drug. Here, more inhibitors from this series are reported and tested for their activities. High resolution crystal structures were determined that revealed how these inhibitors bind to the target enzyme. The binding pockets of these inhibitors are thoroughly explored, providing profound insights which are beneficial for further development of MetRS inhibitors against sleeping sickness. A ternary complex of the enzyme, an inhibitor, and an ATP analogue was also determined, indicates that the inhibitor does not compete with ATP for binding. Based on this, a general approach to use inhibitors that engage ATP for binding to tRNA synthetases is proposed.
PMCID: PMC3990509  PMID: 24743796
5.  Conformational Variability of Benzamidinium Based Inhibitors 
Determining the structure of a small molecule bound to a biological receptor (e.g., a protein implicated in a disease state) is a necessary step in structure-based drug design. The preferred conformation of a small molecule can change when bound to a protein, and a detailed knowledge of the preferred conformation(s) of a bound ligand can help in optimizing the affinity of a molecule for its receptor. However, the quality of a protein/ligand complex determined using X-ray crystallography is dependent on the size of the protein, crystal quality and the realized resolution. The energy restraints used in traditional X-ray refinement procedures typically use “reduced” (i.e., neglect of electrostatics and dispersion interactions) Engh and Huber force field models that, while quite suitable for modeling proteins often are less suitable for small molecule structures due to a lack of validated parameters. Through the use of ab initio QM/MM based X-ray refinement procedures this shortcoming can be overcome especially in the active site or binding site of a small molecule inhibitor. Herein, we demonstrate that ab initio QM/MM refinement of an inhibitor/protein complex provides insights into the binding of small molecules beyond what is available using more traditional refinement protocols. In particular, QM/MM refinement studies of benzamidinium derivatives show variable conformational preferences depending on the refinement protocol used and the nature of the active site region.
PMCID: PMC2730048  PMID: 19435349
6.  Direct detection of structurally resolved dynamics in a multi-conformation receptor-ligand complex 
Structure-based drug design relies on static protein structures despite significant evidence for the need to include protein dynamics as a serious consideration. In practice, dynamic motions are neglected because they are not understood well enough to model – a situation resulting from a lack of explicit experimental examples of dynamic receptor-ligand complexes. Here, we report high-resolution details of pronounced ~1 ms timescale motions of a receptor-small molecule complex using a combination of NMR and X-ray crystallography. Large conformational dynamics in Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase are driven by internal switching motions of the drug-like, nanomolar-affinity inhibitor. Carr-Purcell-Meiboom-Gill relaxation dispersion experiments and NOEs revealed the crystal structure to contain critical elements of the high energy protein-ligand conformation. The availability of accurate, structurally resolved dynamics in a protein-ligand complex should serve as a valuable benchmark for modeling dynamics in other receptor-ligand complexes and prediction of binding affinities.
PMCID: PMC3119194  PMID: 21469679
7.  The magic triangle goes MAD: experimental phasing with a bromine derivative 
5-Amino-2,4,6-tribromoisophthalic acid is used as a phasing tool for protein structure determination by MAD phasing. It is the second representative of a novel class of compounds for heavy-atom derivatization that combine heavy atoms with amino and carboxyl groups for binding to proteins.
Experimental phasing is an essential technique for the solution of macromolecular structures. Since many heavy-atom ion soaks suffer from nonspecific binding, a novel class of compounds has been developed that combines heavy atoms with functional groups for binding to proteins. The phasing tool 5-amino-2,4,6-tribromoisophthalic acid (B3C) contains three functional groups (two carboxylate groups and one amino group) that interact with proteins via hydrogen bonds. Three Br atoms suitable for anomalous dispersion phasing are arranged in an equilateral triangle and are thus readily identified in the heavy-atom substructure. B3C was incorporated into proteinase K and a multiwavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) experiment at the Br K edge was successfully carried out. Radiation damage to the bromine–carbon bond was investigated. A comparison with the phasing tool I3C that contains three I atoms for single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) phasing was also carried out.
PMCID: PMC2852301  PMID: 20382990
multi-wavelength anomalous dispersion; experimental phasing; heavy-atom derivatives
8.  Structure Determination and Biochemical Characterization of a Putative HNH Endonuclease from Geobacter metallireducens GS-15 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72114.
The crystal structure of a putative HNH endonuclease, Gmet_0936 protein from Geobacter metallireducens GS-15, has been determined at 2.6 Å resolution using single-wavelength anomalous dispersion method. The structure contains a two-stranded anti-parallel β-sheet that are surrounded by two helices on each face, and reveals a Zn ion bound in each monomer, coordinated by residues Cys38, Cys41, Cys73, and Cys76, which likely plays an important structural role in stabilizing the overall conformation. Structural homologs of Gmet_0936 include Hpy99I endonuclease, phage T4 endonuclease VII, and other HNH endonucleases, with these enzymes sharing 15–20% amino acid sequence identity. An overlay of Gmet_0936 and Hpy99I structures shows that most of the secondary structure elements, catalytic residues as well as the zinc binding site (zinc ribbon) are conserved. However, Gmet_0936 lacks the N-terminal domain of Hpy99I, which mediates DNA binding as well as dimerization. Purified Gmet_0936 forms dimers in solution and a dimer of the protein is observed in the crystal, but with a different mode of dimerization as compared to Hpy99I. Gmet_0936 and its N77H variant show a weak DNA binding activity in a DNA mobility shift assay and a weak Mn2+-dependent nicking activity on supercoiled plasmids in low pH buffers. The preferred substrate appears to be acid and heat-treated DNA with AP sites, suggesting Gmet_0936 may be a DNA repair enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3765158  PMID: 24039739
9.  Arginine Kinase. Joint Crystallographic & NMR RDC Analyses link Substrate-Associated Motions to Intrinsic Flexibility 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;405(2):479-496.
The phosphagen kinase family, including creatine and arginine kinases, catalyze the reversible transfer of a “high energy” phosphate between ATP and a phospho-guanidino substrate. They have become a model for the study of both substrate-induced conformational change and intrinsic protein dynamics. Prior crystallographic studies indicated large substrate-induced domain rotations, but differences among a recent set of arginine kinase structures was interpreted as a plastic deformation. Here, the structure of Limulus substrate-free arginine kinase is refined against high resolution crystallographic data and compared quantitatively with NMR chemical shifts and residual dipolar couplings (RDCs). This demonstrates the feasibility of this type of RDC analysis of proteins that are large by NMR standards (42 kDa), and illuminates the solution structure, free from crystal-packing constraints. Detailed comparison of the 1.7 Å resolution substrate-free crystal structure against the 1.2 Å transition state analog complex shows large substrate-induced domain motions which can be broken down into movements of smaller quasi-rigid bodies. The solution state structure of substrate-free arginine kinase is most consistent with an equilibrium of substrate-free and –bound structures, with the substrate-free form dominating, but with varying displacements of the quasi-rigid groups. Rigid-group rotations evident from the crystal structures are about axes previously associated with intrinsic millisecond dynamics using NMR relaxation dispersion. Thus, “substrate-induced” motions are along modes that are intrinsically flexible in the substrate-free enzyme, and likely involve some degree of conformational selection.
PMCID: PMC3017626  PMID: 21075117
Induced-fit; Conformational selection; Protein dynamics; Conformational change; Residual Dipolar Coupling; Crystal
10.  The structure at 2.4 Å resolution of the protein from gene locus At3g21360, a putative FeII/2-oxo­glutarate-dependent enzyme from Arabidopsis thaliana  
The crystal structure of the 37.2 kDa At3g21360 gene product from A. thaliana was determined at 2.4 Å resolution. The structure establishes that this protein binds a metal ion and is a member of a clavaminate synthase-like superfamily in A. thaliana.
The crystal structure of the gene product of At3g21360 from Arabidopsis thaliana was determined by the single-wavelength anomalous dispersion method and refined to an R factor of 19.3% (R free = 24.1%) at 2.4 Å resolution. The crystal structure includes two monomers in the asymmetric unit that differ in the conformation of a flexible domain that spans residues 178–230. The crystal structure confirmed that At3g21360 encodes a protein belonging to the clavaminate synthase-like superfamily of iron(II) and 2-oxoglutarate-dependent enzymes. The metal-binding site was defined and is similar to the iron(II) binding sites found in other members of the superfamily.
PMCID: PMC1952295  PMID: 16511070
11.  Robust structural analysis of native biological macromolecules from multi-crystal anomalous diffraction data 
Anomalous diffraction signals from typical native macromolecules are very weak, frustrating their use in structure determination. Here, native SAD procedures are described for enhancing the signal to noise in anomalous diffraction by using multiple crystals are described. Five applications demonstrate that truly routine structure determination is possible without the need for heavy atoms.
Structure determinations for biological macromolecules that have no known structural antecedents typically involve the incorporation of heavier atoms than those found natively in biological molecules. Currently, selenomethionyl proteins analyzed using single- or multi-wavelength anomalous diffraction (SAD or MAD) data predominate for such de novo analyses. Naturally occurring metal ions such as zinc or iron often suffice in MAD or SAD experiments, and sulfur SAD has been an option since it was first demonstrated using crambin 30 years ago; however, SAD analyses of structures containing only light atoms (Z max ≤ 20) have not been common. Here, robust procedures for enhancing the signal to noise in measurements of anomalous diffraction by combining data collected from several crystals at a lower than usual X-ray energy are described. This multi-crystal native SAD method was applied in five structure determinations, using between five and 13 crystals to determine substructures of between four and 52 anomalous scatterers (Z ≤ 20) and then the full structures ranging from 127 to 1200 ordered residues per asymmetric unit at resolutions from 2.3 to 2.8 Å. Tests were devised to assure that all of the crystals used were statistically equivalent. Elemental identities for Ca, Cl, S, P and Mg were proven by f′′ scattering-factor refinements. The procedures are robust, indicating that truly routine structure determination of typical native macromolecules is realised. Synchrotron beamlines that are optimized for low-energy X-ray diffraction measurements will facilitate such direct structural analysis.
PMCID: PMC3689535  PMID: 23793158
anomalous scattering; multiple crystals; phase determination; sulfur SAD
12.  X-ray Structure of Snow Flea Antifreeze Protein Determined by Racemic Crystallization of Synthetic Protein Enantiomers 
Chemical protein synthesis and racemic protein crystallization were used to determine the X-ray structure of the snow flea antifreeze protein (sfAFP). Crystal formation from a racemic solution containing equal amounts of the chemically synthesized proteins d-sfAFP and l-sfAFP occurred much more readily than for l-sfAFP alone. More facile crystal formation also occurred from a quasi-racemic mixture of d-sfAFP and l-Se-sfAFP, a chemical protein analogue that contains an additional -SeCH2- moiety at one residue and thus differs slightly from the true enantiomer. Multiple wavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) phasing from quasi-racemate crystals was then used to determine the X-ray structure of the sfAFP protein molecule. The resulting model was used to solve by molecular replacement the X-ray structure of l-sfAFP to a resolution of 0.98 A. The l-sfAFP molecule is made up of six antiparallel left-handed PPII helixes, stacked in two sets of three, to form a compact brick-like structure with one hydrophilic face and one hydrophobic face. This is a novel experimental protein structure and closely resembles a structural model proposed for sfAFP. These results illustrate the utility of total chemical synthesis combined with racemic crystallization and X-ray crystallography for determining the unknown structure of a protein.
PMCID: PMC2719301  PMID: 18598029
13.  Visualisation of variable binding pockets on protein surfaces by probabilistic analysis of related structure sets 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:39.
Protein structures provide a valuable resource for rational drug design. For a protein with no known ligand, computational tools can predict surface pockets that are of suitable size and shape to accommodate a complementary small-molecule drug. However, pocket prediction against single static structures may miss features of pockets that arise from proteins' dynamic behaviour. In particular, ligand-binding conformations can be observed as transiently populated states of the apo protein, so it is possible to gain insight into ligand-bound forms by considering conformational variation in apo proteins. This variation can be explored by considering sets of related structures: computationally generated conformers, solution NMR ensembles, multiple crystal structures, homologues or homology models. It is non-trivial to compare pockets, either from different programs or across sets of structures. For a single structure, difficulties arise in defining particular pocket's boundaries. For a set of conformationally distinct structures the challenge is how to make reasonable comparisons between them given that a perfect structural alignment is not possible.
We have developed a computational method, Provar, that provides a consistent representation of predicted binding pockets across sets of related protein structures. The outputs are probabilities that each atom or residue of the protein borders a predicted pocket. These probabilities can be readily visualised on a protein using existing molecular graphics software. We show how Provar simplifies comparison of the outputs of different pocket prediction algorithms, of pockets across multiple simulated conformations and between homologous structures. We demonstrate the benefits of use of multiple structures for protein-ligand and protein-protein interface analysis on a set of complexes and consider three case studies in detail: i) analysis of a kinase superfamily highlights the conserved occurrence of surface pockets at the active and regulatory sites; ii) a simulated ensemble of unliganded Bcl2 structures reveals extensions of a known ligand-binding pocket not apparent in the apo crystal structure; iii) visualisations of interleukin-2 and its homologues highlight conserved pockets at the known receptor interfaces and regions whose conformation is known to change on inhibitor binding.
Through post-processing of the output of a variety of pocket prediction software, Provar provides a flexible approach to the analysis and visualization of the persistence or variability of pockets in sets of related protein structures.
PMCID: PMC3359218  PMID: 22417279
14.  Using Multiple Microenvironments to Find Similar Ligand-Binding Sites: Application to Kinase Inhibitor Binding 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002326.
The recognition of cryptic small-molecular binding sites in protein structures is important for understanding off-target side effects and for recognizing potential new indications for existing drugs. Current methods focus on the geometry and detailed chemical interactions within putative binding pockets, but may not recognize distant similarities where dynamics or modified interactions allow one ligand to bind apparently divergent binding pockets. In this paper, we introduce an algorithm that seeks similar microenvironments within two binding sites, and assesses overall binding site similarity by the presence of multiple shared microenvironments. The method has relatively weak geometric requirements (to allow for conformational change or dynamics in both the ligand and the pocket) and uses multiple biophysical and biochemical measures to characterize the microenvironments (to allow for diverse modes of ligand binding). We term the algorithm PocketFEATURE, since it focuses on pockets using the FEATURE system for characterizing microenvironments. We validate PocketFEATURE first by showing that it can better discriminate sites that bind similar ligands from those that do not, and by showing that we can recognize FAD-binding sites on a proteome scale with Area Under the Curve (AUC) of 92%. We then apply PocketFEATURE to evolutionarily distant kinases, for which the method recognizes several proven distant relationships, and predicts unexpected shared ligand binding. Using experimental data from ChEMBL and Ambit, we show that at high significance level, 40 kinase pairs are predicted to share ligands. Some of these pairs offer new opportunities for inhibiting two proteins in a single pathway.
Author Summary
Small molecule drugs may interact with many proteins. Some of these interactions may cause unexpected effects, including side effects or potentially useful therapeutic effects. One way to predict these effects is to analyze the three-dimensional structure of target proteins, and identify new binding sites for small molecule drugs. Several methods have been proposed for predicting new binding sites, relying on geometric and functional complementarity of the sites and the small molecules. In this paper, we report on a new method for identifying novel protein-drug interactions by analyzing the similarity between binding sites in proteins. The method has relatively weak geometric requirements and allows for conformational change or dynamics in both the ligand and protein. Our results show that geometric flexibility is useful for effectively comparing sites. We have applied the method to evolutionarily distant kinases, and find unexpected shared inhibitor binding. Our results may be valuable for drug repurposing in order to find novel uses for existing kinase inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3248393  PMID: 22219723
15.  Crystallization and preliminary X-ray diffraction analysis of GCIP/HHM transcriptional regulator 
Native and selenomethionine-derivatized crystals of full-length human GCIP/HHM protein were obtained. The crystals belonged to space group P3221 and the best native crystal diffracted to 3.5 Å resolution.
GCIP/HHM is a human nuclear protein that is implicated in regulation of cell proliferation. Its primary structure contains helix–loop–helix and leucine-zipper motifs but lacks a DNA-binding basic region. Native and selenomethionine-derivatized (SeMet) crystals of full-length GCIP/HHM were obtained using the hanging-drop vapour-diffusion method. The crystals were greatly improved by adding tris(2-carboxyethyl)phosphine as a reducing reagent and diffracted to 3.5 Å resolution. Preliminary phase calculations using the data set obtained from the SeMet crystal suggested that the crystal belonged to space group P3221 and contained one molecule per asymmetric unit. Structure determination by the multiple-wavelength anomalous dispersion method using the SeMet crystals is in progress.
PMCID: PMC2628855  PMID: 19153449
TGF-β; transcription factors; Id-family proteins; carcinogenesis
16.  The Carbohydrate-Binding Site in Galectin-3 Is Preorganized To Recognize a Sugarlike Framework of Oxygens: Ultra-High-Resolution Structures and Water Dynamics 
Biochemistry  2011;51(1):296-306.
The recognition of carbohydrates by proteins is a fundamental aspect of communication within and between living cells. Understanding the molecular basis of carbohydrate–protein interactions is a prerequisite for the rational design of synthetic ligands. Here we report the high- to ultra-high-resolution crystal structures of the carbohydrate recognition domain of galectin-3 (Gal3C) in the ligand-free state (1.08 Å at 100 K, 1.25 Å at 298 K) and in complex with lactose (0.86 Å) or glycerol (0.9 Å). These structures reveal striking similarities in the positions of water and carbohydrate oxygen atoms in all three states, indicating that the binding site of Gal3C is preorganized to coordinate oxygen atoms in an arrangement that is nearly optimal for the recognition of β-galactosides. Deuterium nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relaxation dispersion experiments and molecular dynamics simulations demonstrate that all water molecules in the lactose-binding site exchange with bulk water on a time scale of nanoseconds or shorter. Nevertheless, molecular dynamics simulations identify transient water binding at sites that agree well with those observed by crystallography, indicating that the energy landscape of the binding site is maintained in solution. All heavy atoms of glycerol are positioned like the corresponding atoms of lactose in the Gal3C complexes. However, binding of glycerol to Gal3C is insignificant in solution at room temperature, as monitored by NMR spectroscopy or isothermal titration calorimetry under conditions where lactose binding is readily detected. These observations make a case for protein cryo-crystallography as a valuable screening method in fragment-based drug discovery and further suggest that identification of water sites might inform inhibitor design.
PMCID: PMC3255464  PMID: 22111949
17.  Crystallization and X-ray analysis of human cytoplasmic phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase 
The crystallization and X-ray analysis of recombinant human cytosolic phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase (hcPheRS) are reported. Diffraction data were collected to 3.3 Å resolution and the hcPheRS structure was determined by the molecular-replacement method using phase information derived from multiwavelength anomalous dispersion data.
Human cytosolic phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase (hcPheRS) is responsible for the covalent attachment of phenylalanine to its cognate tRNAPhe. Significant differences between the amino-acid sequences of eukaryotic and prokaryotic PheRSs indicate that the domain composition of hcPheRS differs from that of the Thermus thermophilus analogue. As a consequence of the absence of the anticodon-recognizing B8 domain, the binding mode of tRNAPhe to hcPheRS is expected to differ from that in prokaryotes. Recombinant hcPheRS protein was purified to homogeneity and crystallized. The crystals used for structure determination diffracted to 3.3 Å resolution and belonged to space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 362.9, b = 213.6, c = 212.7 Å, β = 125.2°. The structure of hcPheRS was determined by the molecular-replacement method in combination with phase information from multiwavelength anomalous dispersion.
PMCID: PMC2635853  PMID: 19193993
phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetases; aminoacylation
18.  Intrinsic disorder within an AKAP-protein kinase A complex guides local substrate phosphorylation 
eLife  2013;2:e01319.
Anchoring proteins sequester kinases with their substrates to locally disseminate intracellular signals and avert indiscriminate transmission of these responses throughout the cell. Mechanistic understanding of this process is hampered by limited structural information on these macromolecular complexes. A-kinase anchoring proteins (AKAPs) spatially constrain phosphorylation by cAMP-dependent protein kinases (PKA). Electron microscopy and three-dimensional reconstructions of type-II PKA-AKAP18γ complexes reveal hetero-pentameric assemblies that adopt a range of flexible tripartite configurations. Intrinsically disordered regions within each PKA regulatory subunit impart the molecular plasticity that affords an ∼16 nanometer radius of motion to the associated catalytic subunits. Manipulating flexibility within the PKA holoenzyme augmented basal and cAMP responsive phosphorylation of AKAP-associated substrates. Cell-based analyses suggest that the catalytic subunit remains within type-II PKA-AKAP18γ complexes upon cAMP elevation. We propose that the dynamic movement of kinase sub-structures, in concert with the static AKAP-regulatory subunit interface, generates a solid-state signaling microenvironment for substrate phosphorylation.
eLife digest
It was once thought that proteins needed to have structures that were both ordered and stable, but this view was changed by the discovery that certain proteins contain regions that are disordered and flexible. In some cases these regions of intrinsic disorder help the protein to function by linking more stable regions that are active. However, in other proteins the disordered regions are themselves biologically active and can, for example, function as enzymes.
Protein kinase A is a family of enzymes that contains both ordered and disordered regions, with the ordered sections being involved in phosphorylation, a chemical process that is widely used for communication within cells. However, in order to initiate phosphorylation, these kinases must be anchored to a rigid substrate nearby, so a second group of proteins called AKAPs–which is short for A-kinase anchoring proteins–hold the kinases in place by binding to their disordered regions. These AKAPs also help the kinases to dock with other molecules involved in phosphorylation.
A full structural picture of how the kinases induce phosphorylation has yet to be obtained, partly because it is extremely difficult to determine the structure of the disordered regions within the kinases. Moreover, the AKAPs are also disordered, which makes it difficult to work out how the kinases are held in position.
Smith, Reichow et al. have used electron microscopy to reveal that the disordered region has two important roles: it determines how far away from the anchoring protein that the active region of the kinase can operate, and it influences how efficiently the kinase can bind to its target molecule in order to induce phosphorylation. Future challenges include investigating how the inherent flexibility of AKAP complexes contribute to the efficient phosphorylation of physiological targets.
PMCID: PMC3814001  PMID: 24192038
A-kinase anchoring protein (AKAP); cAMP signaling; single particle reconstruction; cAMP-dependent kinase (PKA); electron microscopy; intrinsic disorder; None
19.  The molecular structure of Rv2074, a probable pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, at 1.6 Å resolution 
The crystal structure of a probable pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase, Rv2074 from M. tuberculosis, has been solved by the two-wavelength anomalous dispersion method and has been refined at 1.6 Å resolution. Two citric acid molecules are bound fortuitously to the possible active site of Rv2074.
The crystal structure of a conserved hypothetical protein corresponding to open reading frame Rv2074 from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) has been solved by the two-wavelength anomalous dispersion method. Refinement of the molecular structure at 1.6 Å resolution resulted in an R work of 0.178 and an R free of 0.204. The crystal asymmetric unit contains an Rv2074 monomer; however, the crystallographic twofold symmetry operation of space group P43212 generates dimeric Rv2074. Each monomer folds into a six-stranded antiparallel β-barrel flanked by two α-helices. The three-dimensional structure of Rv2074 is very similar to that of Mtb Rv1155, a probable pyridoxine 5′-­phosphate oxidase (PNPOx), which corroborates well with the relatively high sequence similarity (52%) between the two. A structural comparison between Rv2074 and Rv1155 revealed that the core structure (a six-stranded β-barrel) is also well conserved; the major differences between the two lie in the N- and C-­termini and in the small helical domain. Two citric acid molecules were observed in the active site of Rv2074, the crystals of which were grown in 0.2 M sodium citrate buffer pH 5.0. The citric acid molecules are bound to Rv2074 by hydrogen-bonding interactions with Thr55, Gln60 and Lys61. One of the two citric acid molecules occupies the same spatial position that corresponds to the position of the phosphate and ribose sugar moieties of the flavin mononucleotide (FMN) in the Mtb Rv1155–FMN, Escherichia coli PNPOx–FMN and human PNPOx–FMN complex structures. Owing to its extensive structural similarity with Mtb Rv1155 and to the E. coli and human PNPOx enzymes, Rv2074 may be involved in the final step in the biosynthesis of pyridoxal 5′-phosphate (PLP; a vitamin B6).
PMCID: PMC2242915  PMID: 16880544
Mycobacterium tuberculosis; β-barrel; citric acid; pyridoxine 5′-phosphate oxidase
20.  Pseudosymmetry, high copy number and twinning complicate the structure determination of Desulfovibrio desulfuricans (ATCC 29577) flavodoxin 
Complications to molecular replacement resulting from a poor starting search model, pseudosymmetry, twinning and a high copy number in the asymmetric unit made the determination of the structure of D. desulfuricans (ATCC 29577) flavodoxin in two crystal forms challenging.
The crystal structure of oxidized flavodoxin from Desulfo­vibrio desulfuricans (ATCC 29577) was determined by molecular replacement in two crystal forms, P3121 and P43, at 2.5 and 2.0 Å resolution, respectively. Structure determination in space group P3121 was challenging owing to the presence of pseudo-translational symmetry and a high copy number in the asymmetric unit (8). Initial phasing attempts in space group P3121 by molecular replacement using a poor search model (46% identity) and multi-wavelength anomalous dispersion were unsuccessful. It was necessary to solve the structure in a second crystal form, space group P43, which was characterized by almost perfect twinning, in order to obtain a suitable search model for molecular replacement. This search model with complementary approaches to molecular replacement utilizing the pseudo-translational symmetry operators determined by analysis of the native Patterson map facilitated the selection and manual placement of molecules to generate an initial solution in the P3121 crystal form. During the early stages of refinement, application of the appropriate twin law, (−h, −k, l), was required to converge to reasonable R-factor values despite the fact that in the final analysis the data were untwinned and the twin law could subsequently be removed. The approaches used in structure determination and refinement may be applicable to other crystal structures characterized by these complicating factors. The refined model shows flexibility of the flavin mononucleotide coordinating loops indicated by the isolation of two loop conformations and provides a starting point for the elucidation of the mechanism used for protein-partner recognition.
PMCID: PMC2685730  PMID: 19465766
flavodoxins; pseudosymmetry; twinning; high copy number; molecular replacement
21.  Role of a Novel PH-Kinase Domain Interface in PKB/Akt Regulation: Structural Mechanism for Allosteric Inhibition 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(1):e1000017.
Protein kinase B (PKB/Akt) belongs to the AGC superfamily of related serine/threonine protein kinases. It is a key regulator downstream of various growth factors and hormones and is involved in malignant transformation and chemo-resistance. Full-length PKB protein has not been crystallised, thus studying the molecular mechanisms that are involved in its regulation in relation to its structure have not been simple. Recently, the dynamics between the inactive and active conformer at the molecular level have been described. The maintenance of PKB's inactive state via the interaction of the PH and kinase domains prevents its activation loop to be phosphorylated by its upstream activator, phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase-1 (PDK1). By using a multidisciplinary approach including molecular modelling, classical biochemical assays, and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)/two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), a detailed model depicting the interaction between the different domains of PKB in its inactive conformation was demonstrated. These findings in turn clarified the molecular mechanism of PKB inhibition by AKT inhibitor VIII (a specific allosteric inhibitor) and illustrated at the molecular level its selectivity towards different PKB isoforms. Furthermore, these findings allude to the possible function of the C-terminus in sustaining the inactive conformer of PKB. This study presents essential insights into the quaternary structure of PKB in its inactive conformation. An understanding of PKB structure in relation to its function is critical for elucidating its mode of activation and discovering how to modulate its activity. The molecular mechanism of inhibition of PKB activation by the specific drug AKT inhibitor VIII has critical implications for determining the mechanism of inhibition of other allosteric inhibitors and for opening up opportunities for the design of new generations of modulator drugs.
Author Summary
A critical protein in cell-signalling pathways, called protein kinase B, regulates many aspects of cell biology from metabolism to proliferation and survival, by modifying other proteins with the addition of a phosphate group. Hence, deregulation of its activity has acute consequences on cell function. Increased activity of a tumour-promoting form of protein kinase B or of upstream regulatory proteins has been observed in tumours, while impaired protein kinase B function has been linked to diabetes. Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanism of protein kinase B activation will help reveal how its activity might be regulated to limit disease progression. Toward this end, we studied how protein kinase B structure relates to its function, to identify molecular mechanisms regulating its kinase activity, modifying its cellular localization, and altering its binding to other proteins. By determining the spatial organization of different regions of the protein in inactive protein kinase B, we discovered a cavity at the interface of two distinct functional regions of the inactive form. We also localized the C-terminal end of the protein to the apex of the cavity, suggesting a role of this domain in regulating the inactive form of the protein. This represents a novel example of negative regulation by inhibition across these different regions of the protein. From these findings, we elucidated the mechanism of action of a highly specific protein kinase B inhibitor, AKT inhibitor VIII. We determined that simultaneous binding of the inhibitor to the two different functional regions, through the cavity, “locks” protein kinase B in an inactive conformation and prevents regulatory proteins from accessing the C-terminal domain.
The mechanism of inhibition of the activity of the tumor-promoter protein kinase B operates via interactions across its functional domains.
PMCID: PMC2628406  PMID: 19166270
22.  SnugDock: Paratope Structural Optimization during Antibody-Antigen Docking Compensates for Errors in Antibody Homology Models 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(1):e1000644.
High resolution structures of antibody-antigen complexes are useful for analyzing the binding interface and to make rational choices for antibody engineering. When a crystallographic structure of a complex is unavailable, the structure must be predicted using computational tools. In this work, we illustrate a novel approach, named SnugDock, to predict high-resolution antibody-antigen complex structures by simultaneously structurally optimizing the antibody-antigen rigid-body positions, the relative orientation of the antibody light and heavy chains, and the conformations of the six complementarity determining region loops. This approach is especially useful when the crystal structure of the antibody is not available, requiring allowances for inaccuracies in an antibody homology model which would otherwise frustrate rigid-backbone docking predictions. Local docking using SnugDock with the lowest-energy RosettaAntibody homology model produced more accurate predictions than standard rigid-body docking. SnugDock can be combined with ensemble docking to mimic conformer selection and induced fit resulting in increased sampling of diverse antibody conformations. The combined algorithm produced four medium (Critical Assessment of PRediction of Interactions-CAPRI rating) and seven acceptable lowest-interface-energy predictions in a test set of fifteen complexes. Structural analysis shows that diverse paratope conformations are sampled, but docked paratope backbones are not necessarily closer to the crystal structure conformations than the starting homology models. The accuracy of SnugDock predictions suggests a new genre of general docking algorithms with flexible binding interfaces targeted towards making homology models useful for further high-resolution predictions.
Author Summary
Antibodies are proteins that are key elements of the immune system and increasingly used as drugs. Antibodies bind tightly and specifically to antigens to block their activity or to mark them for destruction. Three-dimensional structures of the antibody-antigen complexes are useful for understanding their mechanism and for designing improved antibody drugs. Experimental determination of structures is laborious and not always possible, so we have developed tools to predict structures of antibody-antigen complexes computationally. Computer-predicted models of antibodies, or homology models, typically have errors which can frustrate algorithms for prediction of protein-protein interfaces (docking), and result in incorrect predictions. Here, we have created and tested a new docking algorithm which incorporates flexibility to overcome structural errors in the antibody structural model. The algorithm allows both intramolecular and interfacial flexibility in the antibody during docking, resulting in improved accuracy approaching that when using experimentally determined antibody structures. Structural analysis of the predicted binding region of the complex will enable the protein engineer to make rational choices for better antibody drug designs.
PMCID: PMC2800046  PMID: 20098500
23.  The Structure and Ligand Binding Properties of the B. subtilis YkoF Gene Product, a Member of a Novel Family of Thiamin/HMP-binding Proteins 
Journal of molecular biology  2004;343(2):395-406.
The crystal structure of the Bacillus subtilis YkoF gene product, a protein involved in the hydroxymethyl pyrimidine (HMP) salvage pathway, was solved by the multiwavelength anomalous dispersion (MAD) method and refined with data extending to 1.65 Å resolution. The atomic model of the protein shows a homodimeric association of two polypeptide chains, each containing an internal repeat of a ferredoxin-like βαββαβ fold, as seen in the ACT and RAM-domains. Each repeat shows a remarkable similarity to two members of the COG0011 domain family, the MTH1187 and YBL001c proteins, the crystal structures of which were recently solved by the Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium. Two YkoF monomers form a tightly associated dimer, in which the amino acid residues forming the interface are conserved among family members. A putative small-ligand binding site was located within each repeat in a position analogous to the serine-binding site of the ACT-domain of the Escherichia coli phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase. Genetic data suggested that this could be a thiamin or HMP-binding site. Calorimetric data confirmed that YkoF binds two thiamin molecules with varying affinities and a thiamine–YkoF complex was obtained by co-crystallization. The atomic model of the complex was refined using data to 2.3 Å resolution and revealed a unique H-bonding pattern that constitutes the molecular basis of specificity for the HMP moiety of thiamin.
PMCID: PMC2792028  PMID: 15451668
protein structure; macromolecular crystallography; surface engineering; thiamin/HMP binding; ACT/RAM domain family
24.  The Free Energy Landscape of Small Molecule Unbinding 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(2):e1002002.
The spontaneous dissociation of six small ligands from the active site of FKBP (the FK506 binding protein) is investigated by explicit water molecular dynamics simulations and network analysis. The ligands have between four (dimethylsulphoxide) and eleven (5-diethylamino-2-pentanone) non-hydrogen atoms, and an affinity for FKBP ranging from 20 to 0.2 mM. The conformations of the FKBP/ligand complex saved along multiple trajectories (50 runs at 310 K for each ligand) are grouped according to a set of intermolecular distances into nodes of a network, and the direct transitions between them are the links. The network analysis reveals that the bound state consists of several subbasins, i.e., binding modes characterized by distinct intermolecular hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic contacts. The dissociation kinetics show a simple (i.e., single-exponential) time dependence because the unbinding barrier is much higher than the barriers between subbasins in the bound state. The unbinding transition state is made up of heterogeneous positions and orientations of the ligand in the FKBP active site, which correspond to multiple pathways of dissociation. For the six small ligands of FKBP, the weaker the binding affinity the closer to the bound state (along the intermolecular distance) are the transition state structures, which is a new manifestation of Hammond behavior. Experimental approaches to the study of fragment binding to proteins have limitations in temporal and spatial resolution. Our network analysis of the unbinding simulations of small inhibitors from an enzyme paints a clear picture of the free energy landscape (both thermodynamics and kinetics) of ligand unbinding.
Author Summary
Most known drugs used to fight human diseases are small molecules that bind strongly to proteins, particularly to enzymes or receptors involved in essential biochemical or physiological processes. The binding process is very complex because of the many degrees of freedom and multiple interactions between pairs of atoms. Here we show that network analysis, a mathematical tool used to study a plethora of complex systems ranging from social interactions (e.g, friendship links in Facebook) to metabolic networks, provides a detailed description of the free energy landscape and pathways involved in the binding of small molecules to an enzyme. Using molecular dynamics simulations to sample the free energy landscape, we provide strong evidence at atomistic detail that small ligands can have multiple favorable positions and orientations in the active site. We also observe a broad heterogeneity of (un)binding pathways. Experimental approaches to the study of fragment binding to proteins have limitations in spatial and temporal resolution. Our network analysis of the molecular dynamics simulations does not suffer from these limitations. It provides a thorough description of the thermodynamics and kinetics of the binding process.
PMCID: PMC3033371  PMID: 21390201
25.  Structure of the Rho-specific guanine nucleotide-exchange factor Xpln 
The Xpln crystal structure provides structural insights into Rho GTPase binding.
Xpln is a guanine nucleotide-exchange factor (GEF) for Rho GTPases. A Dbl homology (DH) domain followed by a pleckstrin homology (PH) domain is a widely adopted GEF-domain architecture. The Xpln structure solely comprises these two domains. Xpln activates RhoA and RhoB, but not RhoC, although their GTPase sequences are highly conserved. The molecular mechanism of the selectivity of Xpln for Rho GTPases is still unclear. In this study, the crystal structure of the tandemly arranged DH-PH domains of mouse Xpln, with a single molecule in the asymmetric unit, was determined at 1.79 Å resolution by the multiwavelength anomalous dispersion method. The DH-PH domains of Xpln share high structural similarity with those from neuroepithelial cell-transforming gene 1 protein, PDZ-RhoGEF, leukaemia-associated RhoGEF and intersectins 1 and 2. The crystal structure indicated that the α4–α5 loop in the DH domain is flexible and that the DH and PH domains interact with each other intramolecularly, thus suggesting that PH-domain rearrangement occurs upon RhoA binding.
PMCID: PMC3509964  PMID: 23192023
GEF proteins; DH-PH module structure

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