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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.
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
PMCID: PMC2896095  PMID: 20460469
3.  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:
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3031035  PMID: 21134891
4.  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
PMCID: PMC3138080  PMID: 21460026
5.  GAIA: a gram-based interaction analysis tool – an approach for identifying interacting domains in yeast 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10(Suppl 1):S60.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2648738  PMID: 19208164
6.  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.
PMCID: PMC128351  PMID: 12228264
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC2808146  PMID: 19754142
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.
PMCID: PMC2556877  PMID: 16519512
9.  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.
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
10.  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.
PMCID: PMC2803126  PMID: 20057044
all-atom contacts; clashscore; automated correction; KiNG; ribose pucker; Ramachandran plots; side-chain rotamers; model quality; systematic errors; database improvement
11.  Improving consensus structure by eliminating averaging artifacts 
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC2662860  PMID: 19267905
12.  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.
PMCID: PMC3410847  PMID: 22876172
13.  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.
PMCID: PMC2715887  PMID: 19680437
14.  GAIA: An easy-to-use web-based application for interaction analysis of case-control data 
BMC Medical Genetics  2006;7:34.
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.
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.
GAIA is available at
PMCID: PMC1481545  PMID: 16595019
15.  Identification of new, well-populated amino-acid sidechain rotamers involving hydroxyl-hydrogen atoms and sulfhydryl-hydrogen atoms 
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.
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.
Knowledge of these new rotamers will improve the evaluation of hydrogen-bonding networks in protein structures.
PMCID: PMC2569941  PMID: 18840291
16.  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.
PMCID: PMC3498932  PMID: 23151632
anti-HIV lectins; actinohivin; high-mannose-type glycan
17.  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.
PMCID: PMC2859093  PMID: 20376006
X-ray crystallography; homology modeling; cross-validation; Rfree value; refinement
18.  Use of Site-Directed Cysteine and Disulfide Chemistry to Probe Protein Structure and Dynamics: Applications to Soluble and Transmembrane Receptors of Bacterial Chemotaxis 
Methods in enzymology  2007;423:25-51.
Site-directed cysteine and disulfide chemistry is broadly useful in the analysis of protein structure and dynamics, and applications of this chemistry to the bacterial chemotaxis pathway have illustrated the kinds of information that can be generated. Notably, in many cases, cysteine and disulfide chemistry can be carried out in the native environment of the protein whether it be aqueous solution, a lipid bilayer, or a multiprotein complex. Moreover, the approach can tackle three types of problems crucial to a molecular understanding of a given protein: (1) it can map out 2° structure, 3° structure, and 4° structure; (2) it can analyze conformational changes and the structural basis of regulation by covalently trapping specific conformational or signaling states; and (3) it can uncover the spatial and temporal aspects of thermal fluctuations by detecting backbone and domain dynamics. The approach can provide structural information for many proteins inaccessible to high-resolution methods. Even when a high-resolution structure is available, the approach provides complementary information about regulatory mechanisms and thermal dynamics in the native environment. Finally, the approach can be applied to an entire protein, or to a specific domain or subdomain within the full-length protein, thereby facilitating a divide-and-conquer strategy in large systems or multiprotein complexes.
Rigorous application of the approach to a given protein, domain, or subdomain requires careful experimental design that adequately resolves the structural and dynamical information provided by the method. A full structural and dynamical analysis begins by scanning engineered cysteines throughout the region of interest. To determine 2° structure, the solvent exposure of each cysteine is determined by measuring its chemical reactivity, and the periodicity of exposure is analyzed. To probe 3° structure, 4° structure, and conformational regulation, pairs of cysteines are identified that rapidly form disulfide bonds and that retain function when induced to form a disulfide bond in the folded protein or complex. Finally, to map out thermal fluctuations in a protein of known structure, disulfide formation rates are measured between distal pairs of nonperturbing surface cysteines. This chapter details these methods and illustrates applications to two proteins from the bacterial chemotaxis pathway: the periplasmic galactose binding protein and the transmembrane aspartate receptor.
PMCID: PMC2896970  PMID: 17609126
19.  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.
PMCID: PMC3322597  PMID: 22505258
macromolecular crystallography; low resolution; refinement; automation
20.  Comparison of NMR and crystal structures highlights conformational isomerism in protein active sites 
Tools for systematic comparisons of NMR and crystal structures developed by the JCSG were applied to two proteins with known functions: the T. maritima anti-σ factor antagonist TM1081 and the mouse γ-glutamylamine cyclotransferase A2LD1 (gi:13879369). In an attempt to exploit the complementarity of crystal and NMR data, the combined use of the two structure-determination techniques was explored for the initial steps in the challenge of searching proteins of unknown functions for putative active sites.
The JCSG has recently developed a protocol for systematic comparisons of high-quality crystal and NMR structures of proteins. In this paper, the extent to which this approach can provide function-related information on the two functionally annotated proteins TM1081, a Thermotoga maritima anti-σ factor antagonist, and A2LD1 (gi:13879369), a mouse γ-glutamylamine cyclotransferase, is explored. The NMR structures of the two proteins have been determined in solution at 313 and 298 K, respectively, using the current JCSG protocol based on the software package UNIO for extensive automation. The corresponding crystal structures were solved by the JCSG at 100 K and 1.6 Å resolution and at 100 K and 1.9 Å resolution, respectively. The NMR and crystal structures of the two proteins share the same overall molecular architectures. However, the precision of the structure determination along the amino-acid sequence varies over a significantly wider range in the NMR structures than in the crystal structures. Thereby, in each of the two NMR structures about 65% of the residues have displacements below the average and in both proteins the less well ordered residues include large parts of the active sites, in addition to some highly solvent-exposed surface areas. Whereas the latter show increased disorder in the crystal and in solution, the active-site regions display increased displacements only in the NMR structures, where they undergo local conformational exchange on the millisecond time scale that appears to be frozen in the crystals. These observations suggest that a search for molecular regions showing increased structural disorder and slow dynamic processes in solution while being well ordered in the corresponding crystal structure might be a valid initial step in the challenge of identifying putative active sites in functionally unannotated proteins with known three-dimensional structure.
PMCID: PMC2954230  PMID: 20944236
Thermotoga maritima anti-σ factor antagonist; mouse γ-glutamylamine cyclotransferase; NMR and crystal structure comparison; active-site conformation
21.  Towards the high-resolution protein structure prediction. Fast refinement of reduced models with all-atom force field 
Although experimental methods for determining protein structure are providing high resolution structures, they cannot keep the pace at which amino acid sequences are resolved on the scale of entire genomes. For a considerable fraction of proteins whose structures will not be determined experimentally, computational methods can provide valuable information. The value of structural models in biological research depends critically on their quality. Development of high-accuracy computational methods that reliably generate near-experimental quality structural models is an important, unsolved problem in the protein structure modeling.
Large sets of structural decoys have been generated using reduced conformational space protein modeling tool CABS. Subsequently, the reduced models were subject to all-atom reconstruction. Then, the resulting detailed models were energy-minimized using state-of-the-art all-atom force field, assuming fixed positions of the alpha carbons. It has been shown that a very short minimization leads to the proper ranking of the quality of the models (distance from the native structure), when the all-atom energy is used as the ranking criterion. Additionally, we performed test on medium and low accuracy decoys built via classical methods of comparative modeling. The test placed our model evaluation procedure among the state-of-the-art protein model assessment methods.
These test computations show that a large scale high resolution protein structure prediction is possible, not only for small but also for large protein domains, and that it should be based on a hierarchical approach to the modeling protocol. We employed Molecular Mechanics with fixed alpha carbons to rank-order the all-atom models built on the scaffolds of the reduced models. Our tests show that a physic-based approach, usually considered computationally too demanding for large-scale applications, can be effectively used in such studies.
PMCID: PMC1933428  PMID: 17603876
22.  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.
PMCID: PMC2704614  PMID: 19002604
Automation; Structure improvement; Crystallography; Sidechain rotamers; Protein/RNA interactions
23.  ROTAS: a rotamer-dependent, atomic statistical potential for assessment and prediction of protein structures 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(1):307.
Multibody potentials accounting for cooperative effects of molecular interactions have shown better accuracy than typical pairwise potentials. The main challenge in the development of such potentials is to find relevant structural features that characterize the tightly folded proteins. Also, the side-chains of residues adopt several specific, staggered conformations, known as rotamers within protein structures. Different molecular conformations result in different dipole moments and induce charge reorientations. However, until now modeling of the rotameric state of residues had not been incorporated into the development of multibody potentials for modeling non-bonded interactions in protein structures.
In this study, we develop a new multibody statistical potential which can account for the influence of rotameric states on the specificity of atomic interactions. In this potential, named “rotamer-dependent atomic statistical potential” (ROTAS), the interaction between two atoms is specified by not only the distance and relative orientation but also by two state parameters concerning the rotameric state of the residues to which the interacting atoms belong. It was clearly found that the rotameric state is correlated to the specificity of atomic interactions. Such rotamer-dependencies are not limited to specific type or certain range of interactions. The performance of ROTAS was tested using 13 sets of decoys and was compared to those of existing atomic-level statistical potentials which incorporate orientation-dependent energy terms. The results show that ROTAS performs better than other competing potentials not only in native structure recognition, but also in best model selection and correlation coefficients between energy and model quality.
A new multibody statistical potential, ROTAS accounting for the influence of rotameric states on the specificity of atomic interactions was developed and tested on decoy sets. The results show that ROTAS has improved ability to recognize native structure from decoy models compared to other potentials. The effectiveness of ROTAS may provide insightful information for the development of many applications which require accurate side-chain modeling such as protein design, mutation analysis, and docking simulation.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-307) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4262145  PMID: 25236673
24.  Alternate states of proteins revealed by detailed energy landscape mapping 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;405(2):607-618.
What conformations do protein molecules populate in solution? Crystallography provides a high-resolution description of protein structure in the crystal environment, while NMR describes structure in solution but using less data. NMR structures display more variability, but is this because crystal contacts are absent or because of fewer data constraints? Here we report unexpected insight into this issue obtained through analysis of detailed protein energy landscapes generated by large-scale, native-enhanced sampling of conformational space with Rosetta@HOME for 111 protein domains. In the absence of tightly associating binding partners or ligands, the lowest-energy Rosetta models were nearly all <2.5Å CαRMSD from the experimental structure; this result demonstrates that structure prediction accuracy for globular proteins is limited mainly by the ability to sample close to the native structure. While the lowest-energy models are similar to deposited structures, they are not identical; the largest deviations are most often in regions involved in ligand, quaternary, or crystal contacts. For ligand binding proteins, the low energy models may resemble the apo structures, and for oligomeric proteins, the monomeric assembly intermediates. The deviations between the low energy models and crystal structures largely disappear when landscapes are computed in the context of the crystal lattice or multimer. The computed low-energy ensembles, with tight crystal-structure-like packing in the core, but more NMR-structure-like variability in loops, may in some cases resemble the native state ensembles of proteins better than individual crystal or NMR structures, and can suggest experimentally testable hypotheses relating alternative states and structural heterogeneity to function.
PMCID: PMC3046547  PMID: 21073878
Rosetta; alternative conformations; protein mobility; structure prediction; validation
25.  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,] 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.
PMCID: PMC3245188  PMID: 22102572

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