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1.  Automated Minimization of Steric Clashes in Protein Structures 
Proteins  2011;79(1):261-270.
Molecular modeling of proteins including homology modeling, structure determination, and knowledge-based protein design requires tools to evaluate and refine three-dimensional protein structures. Steric clash is one of the artifacts prevalent in low-resolution structures and homology models. Steric clashes arise due to the unnatural overlap of any two non-bonding atoms in a protein structure. Usually, removal of severe steric clashes in some structures is challenging since many existing refinement programs do not accept structures with severe steric clashes. Here, we present a quantitative approach of identifying steric clashes in proteins by defining clashes based on the Van der Waals repulsion energy of the clashing atoms. We also define a metric for quantitative estimation of the severity of clashes in proteins by performing statistical analysis of clashes in high-resolution protein structures. We describe a rapid, automated and robust protocol, Chiron, which efficiently resolves severe clashes in low-resolution structures and homology models with minimal perturbation in the protein backbone. Benchmark studies highlight the efficiency and robustness of Chiron compared to other widely used methods. We provide Chiron as an automated web server to evaluate and resolve clashes in protein structures that can be further used for more accurate protein design.
doi:10.1002/prot.22879
PMCID: PMC3058769  PMID: 21058396
Homology modeling; refinement; Chiron; Discrete Molecular Dynamics; Protein Design
2.  PROSESS: a protein structure evaluation suite and server 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(Web Server issue):W633-W640.
PROSESS (PROtein Structure Evaluation Suite and Server) is a web server designed to evaluate and validate protein structures generated by X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy or computational modeling. While many structure evaluation packages have been developed over the past 20 years, PROSESS is unique in its comprehensiveness, its capacity to evaluate X-ray, NMR and predicted structures as well as its ability to evaluate a variety of experimental NMR data. PROSESS integrates a variety of previously developed, well-known and thoroughly tested methods to evaluate both global and residue specific: (i) covalent and geometric quality; (ii) non-bonded/packing quality; (iii) torsion angle quality; (iv) chemical shift quality and (v) NOE quality. In particular, PROSESS uses VADAR for coordinate, packing, H-bond, secondary structure and geometric analysis, GeNMR for calculating folding, threading and solvent energetics, ShiftX for calculating chemical shift correlations, RCI for correlating structure mobility to chemical shift and PREDITOR for calculating torsion angle-chemical shifts agreement. PROSESS also incorporates several other programs including MolProbity to assess atomic clashes, Xplor-NIH to identify and quantify NOE restraint violations and NAMD to assess structure energetics. PROSESS produces detailed tables, explanations, structural images and graphs that summarize the results and compare them to values observed in high-quality or high-resolution protein structures. Using a simplified red–amber–green coloring scheme PROSESS also alerts users about both general and residue-specific structural problems. PROSESS is intended to serve as a tool that can be used by structure biologists as well as database curators to assess and validate newly determined protein structures. PROSESS is freely available at http://www.prosess.ca.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkq375
PMCID: PMC2896095  PMID: 20460469
3.  Rigid substructure search 
Bioinformatics  2011;27(9):1327-1329.
Motivation: Identifying the location of binding sites on proteins is of fundamental importance for a wide range of applications, including molecular docking, de novo drug design, structure identification and comparison of functional sites. Here we present Erebus, a web server that searches the entire Protein Data Bank for a given substructure defined by a set of atoms of interest, such as the binding scaffolds for small molecules. The identified substructure contains atoms having the same names, belonging to same amino acids and separated by the same distances (within a given tolerance) as the atoms of the query structure. The accuracy of a match is measured by the root-mean-square deviation or by the normal weight with a given variance. Tests show that our approach can reliably locate rigid binding scaffolds of drugs and metal ions.
Availability and Implementation: We provide this service through a web server at http://erebus.dokhlab.org.
Contact: dokh@unc.edu
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btr129
PMCID: PMC3138080  PMID: 21460026
4.  Toward the estimation of the absolute quality of individual protein structure models 
Bioinformatics  2010;27(3):343-350.
Motivation: Quality assessment of protein structures is an important part of experimental structure validation and plays a crucial role in protein structure prediction, where the predicted models may contain substantial errors. Most current scoring functions are primarily designed to rank alternative models of the same sequence supporting model selection, whereas the prediction of the absolute quality of an individual protein model has received little attention in the field. However, reliable absolute quality estimates are crucial to assess the suitability of a model for specific biomedical applications.
Results: In this work, we present a new absolute measure for the quality of protein models, which provides an estimate of the ‘degree of nativeness’ of the structural features observed in a model and describes the likelihood that a given model is of comparable quality to experimental structures. Model quality estimates based on the QMEAN scoring function were normalized with respect to the number of interactions. The resulting scoring function is independent of the size of the protein and may therefore be used to assess both monomers and entire oligomeric assemblies. Model quality scores for individual models are then expressed as ‘Z-scores’ in comparison to scores obtained for high-resolution crystal structures. We demonstrate the ability of the newly introduced QMEAN Z-score to detect experimentally solved protein structures containing significant errors, as well as to evaluate theoretical protein models.
In a comprehensive QMEAN Z-score analysis of all experimental structures in the PDB, membrane proteins accumulate on one side of the score spectrum and thermostable proteins on the other. Proteins from the thermophilic organism Thermatoga maritima received significantly higher QMEAN Z-scores in a pairwise comparison with their homologous mesophilic counterparts, underlining the significance of the QMEAN Z-score as an estimate of protein stability.
Availability: The Z-score calculation has been integrated in the QMEAN server available at: http://swissmodel.expasy.org/qmean.
Contact: torsten.schwede@unibas.ch
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btq662
PMCID: PMC3031035  PMID: 21134891
5.  Characterization of a Novel Intracellularly Activated Gene from Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhi  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(10):5404-5411.
A Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi gene that is selectively up-regulated upon bacterial invasion of eukaryotic cells was characterized. The open reading frame encodes a 298-amino-acid hydrophobic polypeptide (30.8 kDa), which is predicted to be an integral membrane protein with nine membrane-spanning domains. The protein is closely related (87 to 94% reliability) to different transport and permease systems. Gene expression under laboratory conditions was relatively weak; however, sevenfold induction was observed in a high-osmolarity medium (300 mM NaCl). The growth pattern in a laboratory medium of a serovar Typhi strain Ty2 derivative containing a 735-bp in-frame deletion in this gene, named gaiA (for gene activated intracellularly), was not affected. In contrast, the mutant was partially impaired in intracellular survival in murine peritoneal macrophages, as well as in human monocyte-derived macrophages. However, in the case of human macrophages, this survival defect was modest and evident only at late infection times (24 h). Despite the distinct intracellular survival kinetics displayed in macrophages of different species, the gaiA null mutant was significantly affected in its potential to trigger apoptosis in both murine and human macrophages. Provision of the gaiA gene in trans resulted in complementation of these phenotypes. Interestingly, the absence of a functional gaiA gene caused a marked attenuation in the mouse mucin model, as shown by the increase (3 orders of magnitude) in the 50% lethal dose of the mutant strain over that of the parental strain Ty2 (P ≤ 0.05). Altogether, these data indicate that the product encoded by the gaiA gene is required for triggering apoptosis and bacterial survival within murine macrophages, which is consistent with the in vivo results obtained in the mouse mucin model. However, gaiA was not required for initial intracellular survival in human cells, indicating that its role in the natural host might be more complex than is suggested by the studies performed in the murine system.
doi:10.1128/IAI.70.10.5404-5411.2002
PMCID: PMC128351  PMID: 12228264
6.  Significant reduction in errors associated with nonbonded contacts in protein crystal structures: automated all-atom refinement with PrimeX  
All-atom models derived from moderate-resolution protein crystal structures contain a high frequency of close nonbonded contacts, independent of the major refinement program used for structure determination. All-atom refinement with PrimeX corrects many of these problematic interactions, producing models that are better suited for use in computational chemistry and related applications.
All-atom models are essential for many applications in molecular modeling and computational chemistry. Non­bonded atomic contacts much closer than the sum of the van der Waals radii of the two atoms (clashes) are commonly observed in such models derived from protein crystal structures. A set of 94 recently deposited protein structures in the resolution range 1.5–2.8 Å were analyzed for clashes by the addition of all H atoms to the models followed by optimization and energy minimization of the positions of just these H atoms. The results were compared with the same set of structures after automated all-atom refinement with PrimeX and with nonbonded contacts in protein crystal structures at a resolution equal to or better than 0.9 Å. The additional PrimeX refinement produced structures with reasonable summary geometric statistics and similar R free values to the original structures. The frequency of clashes at less than 0.8 times the sum of van der Waals radii was reduced over fourfold compared with that found in the original structures, to a level approaching that found in the ultrahigh-resolution structures. Moreover, severe clashes at less than or equal to 0.7 times the sum of atomic radii were reduced 15-­fold. All-atom refinement with PrimeX produced improved crystal structure models with respect to nonbonded contacts and yielded changes in structural details that dramatically impacted on the interpretation of some protein–ligand interactions.
doi:10.1107/S0907444912017453
PMCID: PMC3413210  PMID: 22868759
H atoms; van der Waals radii; restraints; nonbonded contacts; clashes; molecular geometry; model quality; force fields; refinement; riding H atoms; electrostatics; hydrogen bonds
7.  iFoldRNA: three-dimensional RNA structure prediction and folding 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(17):1951-1952.
Summary: Three-dimensional RNA structure prediction and folding is of significant interest in the biological research community. Here, we present iFoldRNA, a novel web-based methodology for RNA structure prediction with near atomic resolution accuracy and analysis of RNA folding thermodynamics. iFoldRNA rapidly explores RNA conformations using discrete molecular dynamics simulations of input RNA sequences. Starting from simplified linear-chain conformations, RNA molecules (<50 nt) fold to native-like structures within half an hour of simulation, facilitating rapid RNA structure prediction. All-atom reconstruction of energetically stable conformations generates iFoldRNA predicted RNA structures. The predicted RNA structures are within 2–5 Å root mean squre deviations (RMSDs) from corresponding experimentally derived structures. RNA folding parameters including specific heat, contact maps, simulation trajectories, gyration radii, RMSDs from native state, fraction of native-like contacts are accessible from iFoldRNA. We expect iFoldRNA will serve as a useful resource for RNA structure prediction and folding thermodynamic analyses.
Availability: http://iFoldRNA.dokhlab.org.
Contact: dokh@med.unc.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn328
PMCID: PMC2559968  PMID: 18579566
8.  The Structures of Thiolate- and Carboxylate-Ligated Ferric H93G Myoglobin 
Biochemistry  2006;45(10):3170-3177.
Crystal structures of the ferric H93G myoglobin (Mb) cavity mutant containing either an anionic proximal thiolate sulfur-donor or carboxylate oxygen-donor ligand are reported at 1.7 and 1.4 Å resolution, respectively. The crystal structure and magnetic circular dichroism spectra of the H93G Mb β-mercaptoethanol (BME) thiolate adduct reveal a high-spin, five-coordinate complex. Furthermore, the bound BME appears to have an intramolecular hydrogen bond involving the alcohol proton and the ligated thiolate sulfur, mimicking one of the three proximal N-H···S hydrogen bonds in cytochrome P450. The Fe is displaced from the porphyrin plane by 0.5 Å and forms a 2.41 Å Fe-S bond. The Fe3+-S-C angle is 111 °, indicative of a covalent Fe-S bond with sp3 hybridized sulfur. Therefore, the H93G Mb·BME complex provides an excellent protein-derived structural model for high-spin ferric P450. In particular, the Fe-S bond in high-spin ferric P450-CAM has essentially the same geometry despite the constraints imposed by covalent linkage of the cysteine to the protein backbone. This suggests that evolution led to the geometric optimization of the proximal Fe-S(cysteinate) bond in P450. The crystal structure and spectral properties of the H93G Mb acetate adduct reveal a high-spin, six-coordinate complex with proximal acetate and distal water axial ligands. The distal His-64 forms a hydrogen bond with the bound water. The Fe-acetate bonding geometry is inconsistent with an electron pair along the Fe-O bond as the Fe-O-C angle is 152° and the Fe is far from the plane of the acetate. Thus, the Fe-O bonding is ionic. The H93G Mb cavity mutant has already been shown to be a versatile model system for the study of ligand binding to heme proteins; this investigation affords the first structural evidence that non-imidazole exogenous ligands bind in the proximal ligation site.
doi:10.1021/bi052171s
PMCID: PMC2556877  PMID: 16519512
9.  Molecular Dynamics and Quantum Mechanics of RNA: Conformational and Chemical Change We Can Believe In 
Accounts of Chemical Research  2009;43(1):40-47.
Structure and dynamics are both critical to RNA’s vital functions in biology. Numerous techniques can elucidate the structural dynamics of RNA, but computational approaches based on experimental data arguably hold the promise of providing the most detail. In this Account, we highlight areas wherein molecular dynamics (MD) and quantum mechanical (QM) techniques are applied to RNA, particularly in relation to complementary experimental studies.
We have expanded on atomic-resolution crystal structures of RNAs in functionally relevant states by applying explicit solvent MD simulations to explore their dynamics and conformational changes on the submicrosecond time scale. MD relies on simplified atomistic, pairwise additive interaction potentials (force fields). Because of limited sampling, due to the finite accessible simulation time scale and the approximated force field, high-quality starting structures are required.
Despite their imperfection, we find that currently available force fields empower MD to provide meaningful and predictive information on RNA dynamics around a crystallographically defined energy minimum. The performance of force fields can be estimated by precise QM calculations on small model systems. Such calculations agree reasonably well with the Cornell et al. AMBER force field, particularly for stacking and hydrogen-bonding interactions. A final verification of any force field is accomplished by simulations of complex nucleic acid structures.
The performance of the Cornell et al. AMBER force field generally corresponds well with and augments experimental data, but one notable exception could be the capping loops of double-helical stems. In addition, the performance of pairwise additive force fields is obviously unsatisfactory for inclusion of divalent cations, because their interactions lead to major polarization and charge-transfer effects neglected by the force field. Neglect of polarization also limits, albeit to a lesser extent, the description accuracy of other contributions, such as interactions with monovalent ions, conformational flexibility of the anionic sugar−phosphate backbone, hydrogen bonding, and solute polarization by solvent. Still, despite limitations, MD simulations are a valid tool for analyzing the structural dynamics of existing experimental structures. Careful analysis of MD simulations can identify problematic aspects of an experimental RNA structure, unveil structural characteristics masked by experimental constraints, reveal functionally significant stochastic fluctuations, evaluate the structural role of base ionization, and predict structurally and potentially functionally important details of the solvent behavior, including the presence of tightly bound water molecules. Moreover, combining classical MD simulations with QM calculations in hybrid QM/MM approaches helps in the assessment of the plausibility of chemical mechanisms of catalytic RNAs (ribozymes).
In contrast, the reliable prediction of structure from sequence information is beyond the applicability of MD tools. The ultimate utility of computational studies in understanding RNA function thus requires that the results are neither blindly accepted nor flatly rejected, but rather considered in the context of all available experimental data, with great care given to assessing limitations through the available starting structures, force field approximations, and sampling limitations. The examples given in this Account showcase how the judicious use of basic MD simulations has already served as a powerful tool to help evaluate the role of structural dynamics in biological function of RNA.
doi:10.1021/ar900093g
PMCID: PMC2808146  PMID: 19754142
10.  GAIA: a gram-based interaction analysis tool – an approach for identifying interacting domains in yeast 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10(Suppl 1):S60.
Background
Protein-Protein Interactions (PPIs) play important roles in many biological functions. Protein domains, which are defined as independently folding structural blocks of proteins, physically interact with each other to perform these biological functions. Therefore, the identification of Domain-Domain Interactions (DDIs) is of great biological interests because it is generally accepted that PPIs are mediated by DDIs. As a result, much effort has been put on the prediction of domain pair interactions based on computational methods. Many DDI prediction tools using PPIs network and domain evolution information have been reported. However, tools that combine the primary sequences, domain annotations, and structural annotations of proteins have not been evaluated before.
Results
In this study, we report a novel approach called Gram-bAsed Interaction Analysis (GAIA). GAIA extracts peptide segments that are composed of fixed length of continuous amino acids, called n-grams (where n is the number of amino acids), from the annotated domain and DDI data set in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (budding yeast) and identifies a list of n-grams that may contribute to DDIs and PPIs based on the frequencies of their appearance. GAIA also reports the coordinate position of gram pairs on each interacting domain pair. We demonstrate that our approach improves on other DDI prediction approaches when tested against a gold-standard data set and achieves a true positive rate of 82% and a false positive rate of 21%. We also identify a list of 4-gram pairs that are significantly over-represented in the DDI data set and may mediate PPIs.
Conclusion
GAIA represents a novel and reliable way to predict DDIs that mediate PPIs. Our results, which show the localizations of interacting grams/hotspots, provide testable hypotheses for experimental validation. Complemented with other prediction methods, this study will allow us to elucidate the interactome of cells.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-10-S1-S60
PMCID: PMC2648738  PMID: 19208164
11.  Improving consensus structure by eliminating averaging artifacts 
Background
Common structural biology methods (i.e., NMR and molecular dynamics) often produce ensembles of molecular structures. Consequently, averaging of 3D coordinates of molecular structures (proteins and RNA) is a frequent approach to obtain a consensus structure that is representative of the ensemble. However, when the structures are averaged, artifacts can result in unrealistic local geometries, including unphysical bond lengths and angles.
Results
Herein, we describe a method to derive representative structures while limiting the number of artifacts. Our approach is based on a Monte Carlo simulation technique that drives a starting structure (an extended or a 'close-by' structure) towards the 'averaged structure' using a harmonic pseudo energy function. To assess the performance of the algorithm, we applied our approach to Cα models of 1364 proteins generated by the TASSER structure prediction algorithm. The average RMSD of the refined model from the native structure for the set becomes worse by a mere 0.08 Å compared to the average RMSD of the averaged structures from the native structure (3.28 Å for refined structures and 3.36 A for the averaged structures). However, the percentage of atoms involved in clashes is greatly reduced (from 63% to 1%); in fact, the majority of the refined proteins had zero clashes. Moreover, a small number (38) of refined structures resulted in lower RMSD to the native protein versus the averaged structure. Finally, compared to PULCHRA [1], our approach produces representative structure of similar RMSD quality, but with much fewer clashes.
Conclusion
The benchmarking results demonstrate that our approach for removing averaging artifacts can be very beneficial for the structural biology community. Furthermore, the same approach can be applied to almost any problem where averaging of 3D coordinates is performed. Namely, structure averaging is also commonly performed in RNA secondary prediction [2], which could also benefit from our approach.
doi:10.1186/1472-6807-9-12
PMCID: PMC2662860  PMID: 19267905
12.  Identification of new, well-populated amino-acid sidechain rotamers involving hydroxyl-hydrogen atoms and sulfhydryl-hydrogen atoms 
Background
An important element in homology modeling is the use of rotamers to parameterize the sidechain conformation. Despite the many libraries of sidechain rotamers that have been developed, a number of rotamers have been overlooked, due to the fact that they involve hydrogen atoms.
Results
We identify new, well-populated rotamers that involve the hydroxyl-hydrogen atoms of Ser, Thr and Tyr, and the sulfhydryl-hydrogen atom of Cys, using high-resolution crystal structures (<1.2 Å). Although there were refinement artifacts in these structures, comparison with the electron-density maps allowed the placement of hydrogen atoms involved in hydrogen bonds. The χ2 rotamers in Ser, Thr and Cys are consistent with tetrahedral bonding, while the χ3 rotamers in Tyr are consistent with trigonal-planar bonding. Similar rotamers are found in hydrogen atoms that were computationally placed with the Reduce program from the Richardson lab.
Conclusion
Knowledge of these new rotamers will improve the evaluation of hydrogen-bonding networks in protein structures.
doi:10.1186/1472-6807-8-41
PMCID: PMC2569941  PMID: 18840291
13.  The Role of Local Backrub Motions in Evolved and Designed Mutations 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(8):e1002629.
Amino acid substitutions in protein structures often require subtle backbone adjustments that are difficult to model in atomic detail. An improved ability to predict realistic backbone changes in response to engineered mutations would be of great utility for the blossoming field of rational protein design. One model that has recently grown in acceptance is the backrub motion, a low-energy dipeptide rotation with single-peptide counter-rotations, that is coupled to dynamic two-state sidechain rotamer jumps, as evidenced by alternate conformations in very high-resolution crystal structures. It has been speculated that backrubs may facilitate sequence changes equally well as rotamer changes. However, backrub-induced shifts and experimental uncertainty are of similar magnitude for backbone atoms in even high-resolution structures, so comparison of wildtype-vs.-mutant crystal structure pairs is not sufficient to directly link backrubs to mutations. In this study, we use two alternative approaches that bypass this limitation. First, we use a quality-filtered structure database to aggregate many examples for precisely defined motifs with single amino acid differences, and find that the effectively amplified backbone differences closely resemble backrubs. Second, we directly apply a provably-accurate, backrub-enabled protein design algorithm to idealized versions of these motifs, and discover that the lowest-energy computed models match the average-coordinate experimental structures. These results support the hypothesis that backrubs participate in natural protein evolution and validate their continued use for design of synthetic proteins.
Author Summary
Protein design has the potential to generate useful molecules for medicine and chemistry, including sensors, drugs, and catalysts for arbitrary reactions. When protein design is carried out starting from an experimentally determined structure, as is often the case, one important aspect to consider is backbone flexibility, because in response to a mutation the backbone often must shift slightly to reconcile the new sidechain with its environment. In principle, one may model the backbone in many ways, but not all are physically realistic or experimentally validated. Here we study the "backrub" motion, which has been previously documented in atomic detail, but only for sidechain movements within single structures. By a twopronged approach involving both structural bioinformatics and computation with a principled design algorithm, we demonstrate that backrubs are sufficient to explain the backbone differences between mutation-related sets of very precisely defined motifs from the protein structure database. Our findings illustrate that backrubs are useful for describing evolutionary sequence change and, by extension, suggest that they are also appropriate for rational protein design calculations.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002629
PMCID: PMC3410847  PMID: 22876172
14.  GAIA: An easy-to-use web-based application for interaction analysis of case-control data 
BMC Medical Genetics  2006;7:34.
Background
The advent of cheap, large scale genotyping has led to widespread adoption of genetic association mapping as the tool of choice in the search for loci underlying susceptibility to common complex disease. Whilst simple single locus analysis is relatively trivial to conduct, this is not true of more complex analysis such as those involving interactions between loci. The importance of testing for interactions between loci in association analysis has been highlighted in a number of recent high profile publications.
Results
Genetic Association Interaction Analysis (GAIA) is a web-based application for testing for statistical interactions between loci. It is based upon the widely used case-control study design for genetic association analysis and is designed so that non-specialists may routinely apply tests for interaction. GAIA allows simple testing of both additive and additive plus dominance interaction models and includes permutation testing to appropriately correct for multiple testing. The application will find use both in candidate gene based studies and in genome-wide association studies. For large scale studies GAIA includes a screening approach which prioritizes loci (based on the significance of main effects at one or both loci) for further interaction analysis.
Conclusion
GAIA is available at
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-7-34
PMCID: PMC1481545  PMID: 16595019
15.  Super-resolution biomolecular crystallography with low-resolution data 
Nature  2010;464(7292):1218-1222.
X-ray diffraction plays a pivotal role in understanding of biological systems by revealing atomic structures of proteins, nucleic acids, and their complexes, with much recent interest in very large assemblies like the ribosome. Since crystals of such large assemblies often diffract weakly (resolution worse than 4 Å), we need methods that work at such low resolution. In macromolecular assemblies, some of the components may be known at high resolution, while others are unknown: current refinement methods fail as they require a high-resolution starting structure for the entire complex1. Determining such complexes, which are often of key biological importance, should be possible in principle as the number of independent diffraction intensities at a resolution below 5 Å generally exceed the number of degrees of freedom. Here we introduce a new method that adds specific information from known homologous structures but allows global and local deformations of these homology models. Our approach uses the observation that local protein structure tends to be conserved as sequence and function evolve. Cross-validation with Rfree determines the optimum deformation and influence of the homology model. For test cases at 3.5 – 5 Å resolution with known structures at high resolution, our method gives significant improvements over conventional refinement in the model coordinate accuracy, the definition of secondary structure, and the quality of electron density maps. For re-refinements of a representative set of 19 low-resolution crystal structures from the PDB, we find similar improvements. Thus, a structure derived from low-resolution diffraction data can have quality similar to a high-resolution structure. Our method is applicable to studying weakly diffracting crystals using X-ray micro-diffraction2 as well as data from new X-ray light sources3. Use of homology information is not restricted to X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy: as optical imaging advances to sub-nanometer resolution4,5, it can use similar tools.
doi:10.1038/nature08892
PMCID: PMC2859093  PMID: 20376006
X-ray crystallography; homology modeling; cross-validation; Rfree value; refinement
16.  MolProbity: all-atom structure validation for macromolecular crystallography 
MolProbity structure validation will diagnose most local errors in macromolecular crystal structures and help to guide their correction.
MolProbity is a structure-validation web service that provides broad-spectrum solidly based evaluation of model quality at both the global and local levels for both proteins and nucleic acids. It relies heavily on the power and sensitivity provided by optimized hydrogen placement and all-atom contact analysis, complemented by updated versions of covalent-geometry and torsion-angle criteria. Some of the local corrections can be performed automatically in MolProbity and all of the diagnostics are presented in chart and graphical forms that help guide manual rebuilding. X-ray crystallography provides a wealth of biologically important molecular data in the form of atomic three-dimensional structures of proteins, nucleic acids and increasingly large complexes in multiple forms and states. Advances in automation, in everything from crystallization to data collection to phasing to model building to refinement, have made solving a structure using crystallo­graphy easier than ever. However, despite these improvements, local errors that can affect biological interpretation are widespread at low resolution and even high-resolution structures nearly all contain at least a few local errors such as Ramachandran outliers, flipped branched protein side chains and incorrect sugar puckers. It is critical both for the crystallographer and for the end user that there are easy and reliable methods to diagnose and correct these sorts of errors in structures. MolProbity is the authors’ contribution to helping solve this problem and this article reviews its general capabilities, reports on recent enhancements and usage, and presents evidence that the resulting improvements are now beneficially affecting the global database.
doi:10.1107/S0907444909042073
PMCID: PMC2803126  PMID: 20057044
all-atom contacts; clashscore; automated correction; KiNG; ribose pucker; Ramachandran plots; side-chain rotamers; model quality; systematic errors; database improvement
17.  Use of knowledge-based restraints in phenix.refine to improve macromolecular refinement at low resolution 
Recent developments in PHENIX are reported that allow the use of reference-model torsion restraints, secondary-structure hydrogen-bond restraints and Ramachandran restraints for improved macromolecular refinement in phenix.refine at low resolution.
Traditional methods for macromolecular refinement often have limited success at low resolution (3.0–3.5 Å or worse), producing models that score poorly on crystallographic and geometric validation criteria. To improve low-resolution refinement, knowledge from macromolecular chemistry and homology was used to add three new coordinate-restraint functions to the refinement program phenix.refine. Firstly, a ‘reference-model’ method uses an identical or homologous higher resolution model to add restraints on torsion angles to the geometric target function. Secondly, automatic restraints for common secondary-structure elements in proteins and nucleic acids were implemented that can help to preserve the secondary-structure geometry, which is often distorted at low resolution. Lastly, we have implemented Ramachandran-based restraints on the backbone torsion angles. In this method, a ϕ,ψ term is added to the geometric target function to minimize a modified Ramachandran landscape that smoothly combines favorable peaks identified from non­redundant high-quality data with unfavorable peaks calculated using a clash-based pseudo-energy function. All three methods show improved MolProbity validation statistics, typically complemented by a lowered R free and a decreased gap between R work and R free.
doi:10.1107/S0907444911047834
PMCID: PMC3322597  PMID: 22505258
macromolecular crystallography; low resolution; refinement; automation
18.  Autofix for backward-fit sidechains: using MolProbity and real-space refinement to put misfits in their place 
Misfit sidechains in protein crystal structures are a stumbling block in using those structures to direct further scientific inference. Problems due to surface disorder and poor electron density are very difficult to address, but a large class of systematic errors are quite common even in well-ordered regions, resulting in sidechains fit backwards into local density in predictable ways. The MolProbity web site is effective at diagnosing such errors, and can perform reliable automated correction of a few special cases such as 180° flips of Asn or Gln sidechain amides, using all-atom contacts and H-bond networks. However, most at-risk residues involve tetrahedral geometry, and their valid correction requires rigorous evaluation of sidechain movement and sometimes backbone shift. The current work extends the benefits of robust automated correction to more sidechain types. The Autofix method identifies candidate systematic, flipped-over errors in Leu, Thr, Val, and Arg using MolProbity quality statistics, proposes a corrected position using real-space refinement with rotamer selection in Coot, and accepts or rejects the correction based on improvement in MolProbity criteria and on χ angle change. Criteria are chosen conservatively, after examining many individual results, to ensure valid correction. To test this method, Autofix was run and analyzed for 945 representative PDB files and on the 50S ribosomal subunit of file 1YHQ. Over 40% of Leu, Val, and Thr outliers and 15% of Arg outliers were successfully corrected, resulting in a total of 3,679 corrected sidechains, or 4 per structure on average. Summary Sentences: A common class of misfit sidechains in protein crystal structures is due to systematic errors that place the sidechain backwards into the local electron density. A fully automated method called “Autofix” identifies such errors for Leu, Val, Thr, and Arg and corrects over one third of them, using MolProbity validation criteria and Coot real-space refinement of rotamers.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10969-008-9045-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s10969-008-9045-8
PMCID: PMC2704614  PMID: 19002604
Automation; Structure improvement; Crystallography; Sidechain rotamers; Protein/RNA interactions
19.  Four Distances between Pairs of Amino Acids Provide a Precise Description of their Interaction 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(8):e1000470.
The three-dimensional structures of proteins are stabilized by the interactions between amino acid residues. Here we report a method where four distances are calculated between any two side chains to provide an exact spatial definition of their bonds. The data were binned into a four-dimensional grid and compared to a random model, from which the preference for specific four-distances was calculated. A clear relation between the quality of the experimental data and the tightness of the distance distribution was observed, with crystal structure data providing far tighter distance distributions than NMR data. Since the four-distance data have higher information content than classical bond descriptions, we were able to identify many unique inter-residue features not found previously in proteins. For example, we found that the side chains of Arg, Glu, Val and Leu are not symmetrical in respect to the interactions of their head groups. The described method may be developed into a function, which computationally models accurately protein structures.
Author Summary
Knowledge of high-resolution structures of proteins is an invaluable source of information for molecular biologists. Since obtaining structures experimentally is a laborious process, using computational methods to model correctly protein structure is highly beneficial. As protein structures are stabilized by the specific contacts formed by amino acid side chains, detailed understanding of inter-residue interaction is essential. Here we report a novel concept to analyze contact geometry, in which four distances are calculated between any two residues to describe their interactions in great detail. It allowed us to extract information from the Protein Data Bank, which until now was overlooked. This concept can be used to develop a computational method to accurately model protein structures.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000470
PMCID: PMC2715887  PMID: 19680437
20.  Improving NMR Protein Structure Quality by Rosetta Refinement: A Molecular Replacement Study 
Proteins  2009;75(1):147-167.
The structure of human protein HSPC034 has been determined by both solution NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography. Refinement of the NMR structure ensemble, using a Rosetta protocol in the absence of NMR restraints, resulted in significant improvements not only in structure quality, but also in molecular replacement (MR) performance with the raw X-ray diffraction data using MOLREP and Phaser. This method has recently been shown to be generally applicable with improved MR performance demonstrated for eight NMR structures refined using Rosetta.1 Additionally, NMR structures of HSPC034 calculated by standard methods that include NMR restraints, have improvements in the RMSD to the crystal structure and MR performance in the order DYANA, CYANA, XPLOR-NIH, and CNS with explicit water refinement (CNSw). Further Rosetta refinement of the CNSw structures, perhaps due to more thorough conformational sampling and/or a superior force field, was capable of finding alternative low energy protein conformations that were equally consistent with the NMR data according to the RPF scores. Upon further examination, the additional MR-performance shortfall for NMR refined structures as compared to the X-ray structure MR performance were attributed, in part, to crystal-packing effects, real structural differences, and inferior hydrogen bonding in the NMR structures. A good correlation between a decrease in the number of buried unsatisfied hydrogen-bond donors and improved MR performance demonstrates the importance of hydrogen-bond terms in the force field for improving NMR structures. The superior hydrogen-bond network in Rosetta-refined structures, demonstrates that correct identification of hydrogen bonds should be a critical goal of NMR structure refinement. Inclusion of non-bivalent hydrogen bonds identified from Rosetta structures as additional restraints in the structure calculation results in NMR structures with improved MR performance
doi:10.1002/prot.22229
PMCID: PMC2878636  PMID: 18816799
NMR; X-ray; HSPC034; PP25; C1orf41; Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium; structural genomics; comparison of NMR and X-ray structures; Rosetta; NMR force field refinement; molecular replacement; hydrogen bonding; X-ray crystallography; refinement methods
21.  Structural insights into the specific anti-HIV property of actinohivin: structure of its complex with the α(1–2)mannobiose moiety of gp120 
X-ray analysis of anti-HIV actinohivin in complex with the target α(1-2)mannobiose moiety of high-mannose type glycans attached to HIV-1 gp120 reveals that the three rotamers generated with 120 rotations around the molecular pseudo-rotation axis are packed randomly in the unit cell according to the P212121 symmetry to exhibit an apparent space group P213 as the statistical structure. However, the high-resolution X-ray structure shows the detailed interaction geometry for specific binding.
Actinohivin (AH) is an actinomycete lectin with a potent specific anti-HIV activity. In order to clarify the structural evidence for its specific binding to the α(1–2)mannobiose (MB) moiety of the D1 chains of high-mannose-type glycans (HMTGs) attached to HIV-1 gp120, the crystal structure of AH in complex with MB has been determined. The AH molecule is composed of three identical structural modules, each of which has a pocket in which an MB molecule is bound adopting a bracket-shaped conformation. This conformation is stabilized through two weak C—H⋯O hydrogen bonds facilitated by the α(1–2) linkage. The binding features in the three pockets are quite similar to each other, in accordance with the molecular pseudo-threefold symmetry generated from the three tandem repeats in the amino-acid sequence. The shape of the pocket can accept two neighbouring hydroxyl groups of the O3 and O4 atoms of the equatorial configuration of the second mannose residue. To recognize these atoms through hydrogen bonds, an Asp residue is located at the bottom of each pocket. Tyr and Leu residues seem to block the movement of the MB molecules. Furthermore, the O1 atom of the axial configuration of the second mannose residue protrudes from each pocket into an open space surrounded by the conserved hydrophobic residues, suggesting an additional binding site for the third mannose residue of the branched D1 chain of HMTGs. These structural features provide strong evidence indicating that AH is only highly specific for MB and would facilitate the highly specific affinity of AH for any glycoprotein carrying many HMTGs, such as HIV-1 gp120.
doi:10.1107/S0907444912040498
PMCID: PMC3498932  PMID: 23151632
anti-HIV lectins; actinohivin; high-mannose-type glycan
22.  Conformation Dependence of Backbone Geometry in Proteins 
Structure (London, England : 1993)  2009;17(10):1316-1325.
Summary
Protein structure determination and predictive modeling have long been guided by the paradigm that the peptide backbone has a single, context-independent ideal geometry. Both quantum-mechanics calculations and empirical analyses have shown this is an incorrect simplification in that backbone covalent geometry actually varies systematically as a function of the Φ and Ψ backbone dihedral angles. Here, we use a nonredundant set of ultrahigh-resolution protein structures to define these conformation-dependent variations. The trends have a rational, structural basis that can be explained by avoidance of atomic clashes or optimization of favorable electrostatic interactions. To facilitate adoption of this new paradigm, we have created a conformation-dependent library of covalent bond lengths and bond angles and shown that it has improved accuracy over existing methods without any additional variables to optimize. Protein structures derived both from crystallographic refinement and predictive modeling both stand to benefit from incorporation of the new paradigm.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2009.08.012
PMCID: PMC2810841  PMID: 19836332
23.  STAP Refinement of the NMR database: a database of 2405 refined solution NMR structures 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(Database issue):D525-D530.
According to several studies, some nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structures are of lower quality, less reliable and less suitable for structural analysis than high-resolution X-ray crystallographic structures. We present a public database of 2405 refined NMR solution structures [statistical torsion angle potentials (STAP) refinement of the NMR database, http://psb.kobic.re.kr/STAP/refinement] from the Protein Data Bank (PDB). A simulated annealing protocol was employed to obtain refined structures with target potentials, including the newly developed STAP. The refined database was extensively analysed using various quality indicators from several assessment programs to determine the nuclear Overhauser effect (NOE) completeness, Ramachandran appearance, χ1-χ2 rotamer normality, various parameters for protein stability and other indicators. Most quality indicators are improved in our protocol mainly due to the inclusion of the newly developed knowledge-based potentials. This database can be used by the NMR structure community for further development of research and validation tools, structure-related studies and modelling in many fields of research.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr1021
PMCID: PMC3245188  PMID: 22102572
24.  A protein-dependent side-chain rotamer library 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12(Suppl 14):S10.
Background
Protein side-chain packing problem has remained one of the key open problems in bioinformatics. The three main components of protein side-chain prediction methods are a rotamer library, an energy function and a search algorithm. Rotamer libraries summarize the existing knowledge of the experimentally determined structures quantitatively. Depending on how much contextual information is encoded, there are backbone-independent rotamer libraries and backbone-dependent rotamer libraries. Backbone-independent libraries only encode sequential information, whereas backbone-dependent libraries encode both sequential and locally structural information. However, side-chain conformations are determined by spatially local information, rather than sequentially local information. Since in the side-chain prediction problem, the backbone structure is given, spatially local information should ideally be encoded into the rotamer libraries.
Methods
In this paper, we propose a new type of backbone-dependent rotamer library, which encodes structural information of all the spatially neighboring residues. We call it protein-dependent rotamer libraries. Given any rotamer library and a protein backbone structure, we first model the protein structure as a Markov random field. Then the marginal distributions are estimated by the inference algorithms, without doing global optimization or search. The rotamers from the given library are then re-ranked and associated with the updated probabilities.
Results
Experimental results demonstrate that the proposed protein-dependent libraries significantly outperform the widely used backbone-dependent libraries in terms of the side-chain prediction accuracy and the rotamer ranking ability. Furthermore, without global optimization/search, the side-chain prediction power of the protein-dependent library is still comparable to the global-search-based side-chain prediction methods.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-S14-S10
PMCID: PMC3287466  PMID: 22373394
25.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000644
PMCID: PMC2800046  PMID: 20098500

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