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1.  FTFlex: accounting for binding site flexibility to improve fragment-based identification of druggable hot spots 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(9):1218-1219.
Computational solvent mapping finds binding hot spots, determines their druggability and provides information for drug design. While mapping of a ligand-bound structure yields more accurate results, usually the apo structure serves as the starting point in design. The FTFlex algorithm, implemented as a server, can modify an apo structure to yield mapping results that are similar to those of the respective bound structure. Thus, FTFlex is an extension of our FTMap server, which only considers rigid structures. FTFlex identifies flexible residues within the binding site and determines alternative conformations using a rotamer library. In cases where the mapping results of the apo structure were in poor agreement with those of the bound structure, FTFlex was able to yield a modified apo structure, which lead to improved FTMap results. In cases where the mapping results of the apo and bound structures were in good agreement, no new structure was predicted.
Availability: FTFlex is freely available as a web-based server at http://ftflex.bu.edu/.
Contact: vajda@bu.edu or midas@bu.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btt102
PMCID: PMC3634182  PMID: 23476022
2.  Encounter complexes and dimensionality reduction in protein–protein association 
eLife  2014;3:e01370.
An outstanding challenge has been to understand the mechanism whereby proteins associate. We report here the results of exhaustively sampling the conformational space in protein–protein association using a physics-based energy function. The agreement between experimental intermolecular paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) data and the PRE profiles calculated from the docked structures shows that the method captures both specific and non-specific encounter complexes. To explore the energy landscape in the vicinity of the native structure, the nonlinear manifold describing the relative orientation of two solid bodies is projected onto a Euclidean space in which the shape of low energy regions is studied by principal component analysis. Results show that the energy surface is canyon-like, with a smooth funnel within a two dimensional subspace capturing over 75% of the total motion. Thus, proteins tend to associate along preferred pathways, similar to sliding of a protein along DNA in the process of protein-DNA recognition.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01370.001
eLife digest
Proteins rarely act alone. Instead, they tend to bind to other proteins to form structures known as complexes. When two proteins come together to form a complex, they twist and turn through a series of intermediate states before they form the actual complex. These intermediate states are difficult to study because they don’t last for very long, which means that our knowledge of how complexes are formed remains incomplete.
One promising approach for studying the formation of complexes is called paramagnetic relaxation enhancement. In this technique certain areas in one of the proteins are labelled with magnetic particles, which produce signals when the two proteins are close to each other. Repeating the measurement several times with the magnetic particles in different positions provides information about the overall structure of the complex. Computational modelling can then be used to work out the fine details of the structure, including the shapes of the intermediate structures made by the proteins as they interact.
A computer method called docking can be used to predict the most favourable positions that the proteins can take, relative to one another, in a complex. This involves calculating the energy contained in the system, with the correct structure having the lowest energy. Docking methods also predict protein models with slightly higher energies, but with structures that are radically different. Modellers usually ignore these structures, but comparing the docking results to paramagnetic relaxation enhancement data, Kozakov et al. found that these structures actually represent the intermediate states.
Analysing the structure of the intermediate states revealed that the movement of the two proteins relative to one another is severely restricted as they form the final complex. Kozakov et al. found that proteins associate along preferred pathways, similar to the way a protein slides along DNA in the process of protein-DNA recognition. Knowing that the movement of the proteins is restricted in this way will enable researchers to improve the efficiency of docking calculations.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01370.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.01370
PMCID: PMC3978769  PMID: 24714491
encounter landscapes; FFT sampling; protein–protein interactions; none
3.  A Risk Prediction Model for the Assessment and Triage of Women with Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy in Low-Resourced Settings: The miniPIERS (Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk) Multi-country Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001589.
Beth Payne and colleagues use a risk prediction model, the Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk (miniPIERS) to help inform the clinical assessment and triage of women with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in low-resourced settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Pre-eclampsia/eclampsia are leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, particularly in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). We developed the miniPIERS risk prediction model to provide a simple, evidence-based tool to identify pregnant women in LMICs at increased risk of death or major hypertensive-related complications.
Methods and Findings
From 1 July 2008 to 31 March 2012, in five LMICs, data were collected prospectively on 2,081 women with any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy admitted to a participating centre. Candidate predictors collected within 24 hours of admission were entered into a step-wise backward elimination logistic regression model to predict a composite adverse maternal outcome within 48 hours of admission. Model internal validation was accomplished by bootstrapping and external validation was completed using data from 1,300 women in the Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk (fullPIERS) dataset. Predictive performance was assessed for calibration, discrimination, and stratification capacity. The final miniPIERS model included: parity (nulliparous versus multiparous); gestational age on admission; headache/visual disturbances; chest pain/dyspnoea; vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain; systolic blood pressure; and dipstick proteinuria. The miniPIERS model was well-calibrated and had an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC ROC) of 0.768 (95% CI 0.735–0.801) with an average optimism of 0.037. External validation AUC ROC was 0.713 (95% CI 0.658–0.768). A predicted probability ≥25% to define a positive test classified women with 85.5% accuracy. Limitations of this study include the composite outcome and the broad inclusion criteria of any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. This broad approach was used to optimize model generalizability.
Conclusions
The miniPIERS model shows reasonable ability to identify women at increased risk of adverse maternal outcomes associated with the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. It could be used in LMICs to identify women who would benefit most from interventions such as magnesium sulphate, antihypertensives, or transportation to a higher level of care.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Each year, ten million women develop pre-eclampsia or a related hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorder of pregnancy and 76,000 women die as a result. Globally, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy cause around 12% of maternal deaths—deaths of women during or shortly after pregnancy. The mildest of these disorders is gestational hypertension, high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational hypertension does not usually harm the mother or her unborn child and resolves after delivery but up to a quarter of women with this condition develop pre-eclampsia, a combination of hypertension and protein in the urine (proteinuria). Women with mild pre-eclampsia may not have any symptoms—the condition is detected during antenatal checks—but more severe pre-eclampsia can cause headaches, blurred vision, and other symptoms, and can lead to eclampsia (fits), multiple organ failure, and death of the mother and/or her baby. The only “cure” for pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby as soon as possible but women are sometimes given antihypertensive drugs to lower their blood pressure or magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are more likely to develop complications of pre-eclampsia than women in high-income countries and most of the deaths associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy occur in LMICs. The high burden of illness and death in LMICs is thought to be primarily due to delays in triage (the identification of women who are or may become severely ill and who need specialist care) and delays in transporting these women to facilities where they can receive appropriate care. Because there is a shortage of health care workers who are adequately trained in the triage of suspected cases of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in many LMICs, one way to improve the situation might be to design a simple tool to identify women at increased risk of complications or death from hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Here, the researchers develop miniPIERS (Pre-eclampsia Integrated Estimate of RiSk), a clinical risk prediction model for adverse outcomes among women with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy suitable for use in community and primary health care facilities in LMICs.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data on candidate predictors of outcome that are easy to collect and/or measure in all health care settings and that are associated with pre-eclampsia from women admitted with any hypertensive disorder of pregnancy to participating centers in five LMICs to build a model to predict death or a serious complication such as organ damage within 48 hours of admission. The miniPIERS model included parity (whether the woman had been pregnant before), gestational age (length of pregnancy), headache/visual disturbances, chest pain/shortness of breath, vaginal bleeding with abdominal pain, systolic blood pressure, and proteinuria detected using a dipstick. The model was well-calibrated (the predicted risk of adverse outcomes agreed with the observed risk of adverse outcomes among the study participants), it had a good discriminatory ability (it could separate women who had a an adverse outcome from those who did not), and it designated women as being at high risk (25% or greater probability of an adverse outcome) with an accuracy of 85.5%. Importantly, external validation using data collected in fullPIERS, a study that developed a more complex clinical prediction model based on data from women attending tertiary hospitals in high-income countries, confirmed the predictive performance of miniPIERS.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the miniPIERS model performs reasonably well as a tool to identify women at increased risk of adverse maternal outcomes associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Because miniPIERS only includes simple-to-measure personal characteristics, symptoms, and signs, it could potentially be used in resource-constrained settings to identify the women who would benefit most from interventions such as transportation to a higher level of care. However, further external validation of miniPIERS is needed using data collected from women living in LMICs before the model can be used during routine antenatal care. Moreover, the value of miniPIERS needs to be confirmed in implementation projects that examine whether its potential translates into clinical improvements. For now, though, the model could provide the basis for an education program to increase the knowledge of women, families, and community health care workers in LMICs about the signs and symptoms of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001589.
The World Health Organization provides guidelines for the management of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in low-resourced settings
The Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program provides information on pre-eclampsia and eclampsia targeted to low-resourced settings along with a tool-kit for LMIC providers
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information about high blood pressure in pregnancy and a guide to lowering blood pressure in pregnancy
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about pre-eclampsia
The US not-for profit organization Preeclampsia Foundation provides information about all aspects of pre-eclampsia; its website includes some personal stories
The UK charity Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about hypertensive disorders of pregnancy
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure and pregnancy (in English and Spanish); the MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has a video about pre-eclampsia (also in English and Spanish)
More information about miniPIERS and about fullPIERS is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001589
PMCID: PMC3897359  PMID: 24465185
4.  Application of asymmetric statistical potentials to antibody–protein docking 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(20):2608-2614.
Motivation: An effective docking algorithm for antibody–protein antigen complex prediction is an important first step toward design of biologics and vaccines. We have recently developed a new class of knowledge-based interaction potentials called Decoys as the Reference State (DARS) and incorporated DARS into the docking program PIPER based on the fast Fourier transform correlation approach. Although PIPER was the best performer in the latest rounds of the CAPRI protein docking experiment, it is much less accurate for docking antibody–protein antigen pairs than other types of complexes, in spite of incorporating sequence-based information on the location of the paratope. Analysis of antibody–protein antigen complexes has revealed an inherent asymmetry within these interfaces. Specifically, phenylalanine, tryptophan and tyrosine residues highly populate the paratope of the antibody but not the epitope of the antigen.
Results: Since this asymmetry cannot be adequately modeled using a symmetric pairwise potential, we have removed the usual assumption of symmetry. Interaction statistics were extracted from antibody–protein complexes under the assumption that a particular atom on the antibody is different from the same atom on the antigen protein. The use of the new potential significantly improves the performance of docking for antibody–protein antigen complexes, even without any sequence information on the location of the paratope. We note that the asymmetric potential captures the effects of the multi-body interactions inherent to the complex environment in the antibody–protein antigen interface.
Availability: The method is implemented in the ClusPro protein docking server, available at http://cluspro.bu.edu.
Contact: midas@bu.edu or vajda@bu.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/bts493
PMCID: PMC3467743  PMID: 23053206
5.  Hot spot analysis for driving the development of hits into leads in fragment based drug discovery 
Fragment based drug design (FBDD) starts with finding fragment-sized compounds that are highly ligand efficient and can serve as a core moiety for developing high affinity leads. Although the core-bound structure of a protein facilitates the construction of leads, effective design is far from straightforward. We show that protein mapping, a computational method developed to find binding hot spots and implemented as the FTMap server, provides information that complements the fragment screening results and can drive the evolution of core fragments into larger leads with a minimal loss or, in some cases, even a gain in ligand efficiency. The method places small molecular probes, the size of organic solvents, on a dense grid around the protein, and identifies the hot spots as consensus clusters formed by clusters of several probes. The hot spots are ranked based on the number of probe clusters, which predicts the binding propensity of the subsites and hence their importance for drug design. Accordingly, with a single exception the main hot spot identified by FTMap binds the core compound found by fragment screening. The most useful information is provided by the neighboring secondary hot spots, indicating the regions where the core can be extended to increase its affinity. To quantify this information, we calculate the density of probes from mapping, which describes the binding propensity at each point, and show that the change in the correlation between a ligand position and the probe density upon extending or repositioning the core moiety predicts the expected change in ligand efficiency.
doi:10.1021/ci200468p
PMCID: PMC3264775  PMID: 22145575
Protein mapping; protein docking; drug design; ligand efficiency; affinity prediction
6.  Relationship between Hot Spot Residues and Ligand Binding Hot Spots in Protein-Protein Interfaces 
In the context of protein-protein interactions, the term “hot spot” refers to a residue or cluster of residues that makes a major contribution to the binding free energy, as determined by alanine scanning mutagenesis. In contrast, in pharmaceutical research a hot spot is a site on a target protein that has high propensity for ligand binding and hence is potentially important for drug discovery. Here we examine the relationship between these two hot spot concepts by comparing alanine scanning data for a set of 15 proteins with results from mapping the protein surfaces for sites that can bind fragment-sized small molecules. We find the two types of hot spots are largely complementary; the residues protruding into hot spot regions identified by computational mapping or experimental fragment screening are almost always themselves hot spot residues as defined by alanine scanning experiments. Conversely, a residue that is found by alanine scanning to contribute little to binding rarely interacts with hot spot regions on the partner protein identified by fragment mapping. In spite of the strong correlation between the two hot spot concepts, they fundamentally differ, however. In particular, while identification of a hot spot by alanine scanning establishes the potential to generate substantial interaction energy with a binding partner, there are additional topological requirements to be a hot spot for small molecule binding. Hence, only a minority of hot spots identified by alanine scanning represent sites that are potentially useful for small inhibitor binding, and it is this subset that is identified by experimental or computational fragment screening.
doi:10.1021/ci300175u
PMCID: PMC3623692  PMID: 22770357
7.  Visualization of membrane protein crystals in lipid cubic phase using X-ray imaging 
A comparison of X-ray diffraction and radiographic techniques for the location and characterization of protein crystals is demonstrated on membrane protein crystals mounted within lipid cubic phase material.
The focus in macromolecular crystallography is moving towards even more challenging target proteins that often crystallize on much smaller scales and are frequently mounted in opaque or highly refractive materials. It is therefore essential that X-ray beamline technology develops in parallel to accommodate such difficult samples. In this paper, the use of X-ray microradiography and microtomography is reported as a tool for crystal visualization, location and characterization on the macromolecular crystallography beamlines at the Diamond Light Source. The technique is particularly useful for microcrystals and for crystals mounted in opaque materials such as lipid cubic phase. X-ray diffraction raster scanning can be used in combination with radiography to allow informed decision-making at the beamline prior to diffraction data collection. It is demonstrated that the X-ray dose required for a full tomography measurement is similar to that for a diffraction grid-scan, but for sample location and shape estimation alone just a few radiographic projections may be required.
doi:10.1107/S0907444913011359
PMCID: PMC3689528  PMID: 23793151
membrane proteins; lipid cubic phase; microradiography; microtomography
8.  Factors Affecting the Propensity of Tsetse Flies to Enter Houses and Attack Humans Inside: Increased Risk of Sleeping Sickness in Warmer Climates 
Background
Sleeping sickness, or human African trypanosomiasis, is caused by two species of Trypanosoma brucei that are transmitted to humans by tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) when these insects take a bloodmeal. It is commonly assumed that humans must enter the normal woodland habitat of the flies to become infected, but recent studies found that tsetse frequently attack humans inside buildings. Factors affecting human/tsetse contact in buildings need identification.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In Zimbabwe, tsetse were allowed access to a house via an open door. Those in the house at sunset, and those alighting on humans in the house during the day, were caught using hand-nets. Total catches were unaffected by: (i) the presence of humans in the house and at the door, (ii) wood smoke from a fire inside the house or just outside, (iii) open windows, and (iv) chemicals simulating the odor of cattle or of humans. Catches increased about 10-fold with rising ambient temperatures, and during the hottest months the proportion of the total catch that was taken from the humans increased from 5% to 13%. Of the tsetse caught from humans, 62% consisted of female G. morsitans morstans and both sexes of G. pallidipes, i.e., the group of tsetse that normally alight little on humans. Some of the tsetse caught were old enough to be effective vectors.
Conclusion/Significance
Present results confirm previous suggestions that buildings provide a distinctive and important venue for transmission of sleeping sickness, especially since the normal repellence of humans and smoke seems poorly effective in such places. The importance of the venue would be increased in warmer climates.
Author Summary
To identify factors affecting the contact between tsetse and humans in buildings, we caught tsetse that (i) accumulated in a large thatched house in Zimbabwe, and (ii) alighted on humans in the house during the day. In accord with earlier work, the numbers accumulating increased about 10-fold with rising ambient temperature. However, it was surprising that the numbers were unaffected by the presence of humans or artificial human odor in the house, or by wood smoke or a simulation of ox odor, since these factors can affect greatly the catches at baits in woodland. Tsetse that alighted on humans in the house contained a high proportion of those classes of tsetse that seldom alight on humans. Some of the alighting flies were old enough to be vectors of sleeping sickness. Our results emphasize that buildings are venues for important and distinctive contact between humans and tsetse, and that the risk of disease transmission there may be greater in warmer climates.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002193
PMCID: PMC3636123  PMID: 23638209
9.  Minimal ensembles of side chain conformers for modeling protein-protein interactions 
Proteins  2011;10.1002/prot.23222.
The goal of this paper is to reduce the complexity of the side chain search within docking problems. We apply six methods of generating side chain conformers to unbound protein structures, and determine their ability of obtaining the bound conformation in small ensembles of conformers. Methods are evaluated in terms of the positions of side chain end groups. Results for 68 protein complexes yield two important observations. First, the end group positions change less than 1 Å upon association for over 60% of interface side chains. Thus, the unbound protein structure carries substantial information about the side chains in the bound state, and the inclusion of the unbound conformation into the ensemble of conformers is very beneficial. Second, considering each surface side chain separately in its protein environment, small ensembles of low energy states include the bound conformation for a large fraction of side chains. In particular, the ensemble consisting of the unbound conformation and the two highest probability predicted conformers includes the bound conformer with an accuracy of 1 Å for 78% of interface side chains. Since more than 60% of the interface side chains have only one conformer and many others only a few, these ensembles of low energy states substantially reduce the complexity of side chain search in docking problems. This approach was already used for finding pockets in protein-protein interfaces that can bind small molecules to potentially disrupt protein-protein interactions. Side chain search with the reduced search space will also be incorporated into protein docking algorithms.
doi:10.1002/prot.23222
PMCID: PMC3297704  PMID: 22105850
rotamer libraries; side chain flexibility; protein binding; structure prediction; preexisting ensemble of conformers
10.  FTSite: high accuracy detection of ligand binding sites on unbound protein structures 
Bioinformatics  2011;28(2):286-287.
Motivation: Binding site identification is a classical problem that is important for a range of applications, including the structure-based prediction of function, the elucidation of functional relationships among proteins, protein engineering and drug design. We describe an accurate method of binding site identification, namely FTSite. This method is based on experimental evidence that ligand binding sites also bind small organic molecules of various shapes and polarity. The FTSite algorithm does not rely on any evolutionary or statistical information, but achieves near experimental accuracy: it is capable of identifying the binding sites in over 94% of apo proteins from established test sets that have been used to evaluate many other binding site prediction methods.
Availability: FTSite is freely available as a web-based server at http://ftsite.bu.edu.
Contact: vajda@bu.edu; midas@bu.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btr651
PMCID: PMC3259439  PMID: 22113084
11.  Towards an Early Warning System for Rhodesian Sleeping Sickness in Savannah Areas: Man-Like Traps for Tsetse Flies 
Background
In the savannahs of East and Southern Africa, tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) transmit Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense which causes Rhodesian sleeping sickness, the zoonotic form of human African trypanosomiasis. The flies feed mainly on wild and domestic animals and are usually repelled by humans. However, this innate aversion to humans can be undermined by environmental stresses on tsetse populations, so increasing disease risk. To monitor changes in risk, we need traps designed specifically to quantify the responsiveness of savannah tsetse to humans, but the traps currently available are designed to simulate other hosts.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In Zimbabwe, two approaches were made towards developing a man-like trap for savannah tsetse: either modifying an ox-like trap or creating new designs. Tsetse catches from a standard ox-like trap used with and without artificial ox odor were reduced by two men standing nearby, by an average of 34% for Glossina morsitans morsitans and 56% for G. pallidipes, thus giving catches more like those made by hand-nets from men. Sampling by electrocuting devices suggested that the men stopped flies arriving near the trap and discouraged trap-entering responses. Most of human repellence was olfactory, as evidenced by the reduction in catches when the trap was used with the odor of hidden men. Geranyl acetone, known to occur in human odor, and dispensed at 0.2 mg/h, was about as repellent as human odor but not as powerfully repellent as wood smoke. New traps looking and smelling like men gave catches like those from men.
Conclusion/Significance
Catches from the completely new man-like traps seem too small to give reliable indices of human repellence. Better indications would be provided by comparing the catches of an ox-like trap either with or without artificial human odor. The chemistry and practical applications of the repellence of human odor and smoke deserve further study.
Author Summary
In savannah areas of Africa the incidence of sleeping sickness is commonly low because the species of tsetse fly that spread the disease there feed mainly on wild and domestic animals, and are strongly repelled by humans. Environmental stresses can make the flies less responsive to the repellence, so threatening to increase greatly the disease risk. Man-like traps for tsetse could monitor the repellence, but the only traps available are ox-like. Hence, we tried two approaches to developing man-like traps: first, the modification of an existing ox-like trap, and second, the creation of entirely new traps that look and smell somewhat like people. The new traps caught very few tsetse, giving unreliable indices of disease risk. A better index is provided by monitoring the catches from an ox-like trap, to assess tsetse abundance, and comparing such catches with those from an ox-like trap provided with artificial human odor, to assess repellency. Geranyl acetone seems to be an important repellent in human odor, but it is not as effective as wood smoke. The chemistry and practical uses of repellents need further study.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001978
PMCID: PMC3531518  PMID: 23301107
12.  Analysis of protein binding sites by computational solvent mapping 
Summary
Computational solvent mapping globally samples the surface of target proteins using molecular probes – small molecules or functional groups – to identify potentially favorable binding positions. The method is based on X-ray and NMR screening studies showing that the binding sites of proteins also bind a large variety of fragment-sized molecules. We have developed the multi-stage mapping algorithm FTMap (available as a server at http://ftmap.bu.edu/) based on the fast Fourier transform (FFT) correlation approach. Identifying regions of low free energy rather than individual low energy conformations, FTMap reproduces the available experimental mapping results. Applications to a variety of proteins show that the probes always cluster in important subsites of the binding site, and the amino acid residues that interact with many probes also bind the specific ligands of the protein. The “consensus” sites at which a number of different probes cluster are likely to be “druggable” sites, capable of binding drug-size ligands with high affinity. Due to its sensitivity to conformational changes the method can also be used for comparing the binding sites in different structures of a protein.
doi:10.1007/978-1-61779-465-0_2
PMCID: PMC3526383  PMID: 22183527
Protein structure; protein-ligand interactions; binding site; binding hot spots; fragment-based ligand design; druggability; binding site comparison; docking
13.  Computational mapping reveals dramatic effect of Hoogsteen breathing on duplex DNA reactivity with formaldehyde 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(16):7644-7652.
Formaldehyde has long been recognized as a hazardous environmental agent highly reactive with DNA. Recently, it has been realized that due to the activity of histone demethylation enzymes within the cell nucleus, formaldehyde is produced endogenously, in direct vicinity of genomic DNA. Should it lead to extensive DNA damage? We address this question with the aid of a computational mapping method, analogous to X-ray and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques for observing weakly specific interactions of small organic compounds with a macromolecule in order to establish important functional sites. We concentrate on the leading reaction of formaldehyde with free bases: hydroxymethylation of cytosine amino groups. Our results show that in B-DNA, cytosine amino groups are totally inaccessible for the formaldehyde attack. Then, we explore the effect of recently discovered transient flipping of Watson–Crick (WC) pairs into Hoogsteen (HG) pairs (HG breathing). Our results show that the HG base pair formation dramatically affects the accessibility for formaldehyde of cytosine amino nitrogens within WC base pairs adjacent to HG base pairs. The extensive literature on DNA interaction with formaldehyde is analyzed in light of the new findings. The obtained data emphasize the significance of DNA HG breathing.
doi:10.1093/nar/gks519
PMCID: PMC3439909  PMID: 22705795
14.  FTMAP: extended protein mapping with user-selected probe molecules 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(Web Server issue):W271-W275.
Binding hot spots, protein sites with high-binding affinity, can be identified using X-ray crystallography or NMR by screening libraries of small organic molecules that tend to cluster at such regions. FTMAP, a direct computational analog of the experimental screening approaches, globally samples the surface of a target protein using small organic molecules as probes, finds favorable positions, clusters the conformations and ranks the clusters on the basis of the average energy. The regions that bind several probe clusters predict the binding hot spots, in good agreement with experimental results. Small molecules discovered by fragment-based approaches to drug design also bind at the hot spot regions. To identify such molecules and their most likely bound positions, we extend the functionality of FTMAP (http://ftmap.bu.edu/param) to accept any small molecule as an additional probe. In its updated form, FTMAP identifies the hot spots based on a standard set of probes, and for each additional probe shows representative structures of nearby low energy clusters. This approach helps to predict bound poses of the user-selected molecules, detects if a compound is not likely to bind in the hot spot region, and provides input for the design of larger ligands.
doi:10.1093/nar/gks441
PMCID: PMC3394268  PMID: 22589414
15.  Blocking eIF4E-eIF4G Interaction as a Strategy To Impair Coronavirus Replication▿ 
Journal of Virology  2011;85(13):6381-6389.
Coronaviruses are a family of enveloped single-stranded positive-sense RNA viruses causing respiratory, enteric, and neurologic diseases in mammals and fowl. Human coronaviruses are recognized to cause up to a third of common colds and are suspected to be involved in enteric and neurologic diseases. Coronavirus replication involves the generation of nested subgenomic mRNAs (sgmRNAs) with a common capped 5′ leader sequence. The translation of most of the sgmRNAs is thought to be cap dependent and displays a requirement for eukaryotic initiation factor 4F (eIF4F), a heterotrimeric complex needed for the recruitment of 40S ribosomes. We recently reported on an ultrahigh-throughput screen to discover compounds that inhibit eIF4F activity by blocking the interaction of two of its subunits (R. Cencic et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 108:1046–1051, 2011). Herein we describe a molecule from this screen that prevents the interaction between eIF4E (the cap-binding protein) and eIF4G (a large scaffolding protein), inhibiting cap-dependent translation. This inhibitor significantly decreased human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) replication, reducing the percentage of infected cells and intra- and extracellular infectious virus titers. Our results support the strategy of targeting the eIF4F complex to block coronavirus infection.
doi:10.1128/JVI.00078-11
PMCID: PMC3126520  PMID: 21507972
16.  Achieving reliability and high accuracy in automated protein docking: ClusPro, PIPER, SDU, and stability analysis in CAPRI rounds 13-19 
Proteins  2010;78(15):3124-3130.
Our approach to protein-protein docking includes three main steps. First we run PIPER, a rigid body docking program based on the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) correlation approach, extended to use pairwise interactions potentials. Next, the 1000 best energy conformations are clustered, and the 30 largest clusters are retained for refinement. Third, the stability of the clusters is analyzed by short Monte Carlo simulations, and the structures are refined by the medium-range optimization method SDU. The first two steps of this approach are implemented in the ClusPro 2.0 protein-protein docking server. Despite being fully automated, the last step is computationally too expensive to be included in the server. Comparing the models obtained in CAPRI rounds 13–19 by ClusPro, by the refinement of the ClusPro predictions, and by all predictor groups, we arrived at three conclusions. First, for the first time in the CAPRI history, our automated ClusPro server was able to compete with the best human predictor groups. Second, selecting the top ranked models, our current protocol reliably generates high quality structures of protein-protein complexes from the structures of separately crystallized proteins, even in the absence of biological information, provided that there is limited backbone conformational change. Third, despite occasional successes, homology modeling requires further improvement to achieve reliable docking results.
doi:10.1002/prot.22835
PMCID: PMC3027207  PMID: 20818657
17.  MxCuBE: a synchrotron beamline control environment customized for macromolecular crystallography experiments 
Journal of Synchrotron Radiation  2010;17(Pt 5):700-707.
MxCuBE is a beamline control environment optimized for the needs of macromolecular crystallography. This paper describes the design of the software and the features that MxCuBE currently provides.
The design and features of a beamline control software system for macromolecular crystallography (MX) experiments developed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) are described. This system, MxCuBE, allows users to easily and simply interact with beamline hardware components and provides automated routines for common tasks in the operation of a synchrotron beamline dedicated to experiments in MX. Additional functionality is provided through intuitive interfaces that enable the assessment of the diffraction characteristics of samples, experiment planning, automatic data collection and the on-line collection and analysis of X-ray emission spectra. The software can be run in a tandem client-server mode that allows for remote control and relevant experimental parameters and results are automatically logged in a relational database, ISPyB. MxCuBE is modular, flexible and extensible and is currently deployed on eight macromolecular crystallography beamlines at the ESRF. Additionally, the software is installed at MAX-lab beamline I911-3 and at BESSY beamline BL14.1.
doi:10.1107/S0909049510020005
PMCID: PMC3025540  PMID: 20724792
automation; macromolecular crystallography; synchrotron beamline control; graphical user interface
18.  RadA protein from Archaeoglobus fulgidus forms rings, nucleoprotein filaments and catalyses homologous recombination 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(22):4509-4517.
Proteins that catalyse homologous recombination have been identified in all living organisms and are essential for the repair of damaged DNA as well as for the generation of genetic diversity. In bacteria homologous recombination is performed by the RecA protein, whereas in the eukarya a related protein called Rad51 is required to catalyse recombination and repair. More recently, archaeal homologues of RecA/Rad51 (RadA) have been identified and isolated. In this work we have cloned and purified the RadA protein from the hyperthermophilic, sulphate-reducing archaeon Archaeoglobus fulgidus and characterised its in vitro activities. We show that (i) RadA protein forms ring structures in solution and binds single- but not double-stranded DNA to form nucleoprotein filaments, (ii) RadA is a single-stranded DNA-dependent ATPase at elevated temperatures, and (iii) RadA catalyses efficient D-loop formation and strand exchange at temperatures of 60–70°C. Finally, we have used electron microscopy to visualise RadA-mediated joint molecules, the intermediates of homologous recombination. Intriguingly, RadA shares properties of both the bacterial RecA and eukaryotic Rad51 recombinases.
PMCID: PMC92570  PMID: 11713300

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