An overview of applications of the deformable elastic network (DEN) refinement method is presented together with recommendations for its optimal usage.
Crystals of membrane proteins and protein complexes often diffract to low resolution owing to their intrinsic molecular flexibility, heterogeneity or the mosaic spread of micro-domains. At low resolution, the building and refinement of atomic models is a more challenging task. The deformable elastic network (DEN) refinement method developed previously has been instrumental in the determinion of several structures at low resolution. Here, DEN refinement is reviewed, recommendations for its optimal usage are provided and its limitations are discussed. Representative examples of the application of DEN refinement to challenging cases of refinement at low resolution are presented. These cases include soluble as well as membrane proteins determined at limiting resolutions ranging from 3 to 7 Å. Potential extensions of the DEN refinement technique and future perspectives for the interpretation of low-resolution crystal structures are also discussed.
deformable elastic network refinement; low resolution
The GroEL/ES chaperonin system is required for the assisted folding of many proteins. How these substrate proteins are encapsulated within the GroEL-GroES cavity is poorly understood. Using symmetry-free, single-particle electron cryo-microscopy, we have characterized a chemically modified mutant of GroEL (EL43Py) that is trapped at a normally transient stage of substrate protein encapsulation. We show that the symmetric pattern of the GroEL subunits is broken as the GroEL cis-ring apical domains reorient to accommodate the simultaneous binding of GroES and an incompletely folded substrate protein (RuBisCO). The collapsed RuBisCO folding intermediate binds to the lower segment of two apical domains, as well as the normally unstructured GroEL C-terminal tails. A comparative structural analysis suggests that the allosteric transitions leading to substrate protein release and folding involves concerted shifts of GroES and the GroEL apical domains and C-terminal tails.
In eukaryotes, CCT is essential for the correct and efficient folding of many cytosolic proteins, most notably actin and tubulin. Structural studies of CCT have been hindered by the failure of standard crystallographic analysis to resolve its eight different subunit types at low resolutions. Here, we exhaustively assess the R-value fit of all possible CCT models to available crystallographic data of the closed and open forms with resolutions of 3.8 Å and 5.5 Å, respectively. This unbiased analysis finds the native subunit arrangements with overwhelming significance. The resulting structures provide independent crystallographic proof of the subunit arrangement of CCT, and map major asymmetrical features of the particle onto specific subunits. The actin and tubulin substrates both bind around subunit CCT6, which shows other structural anomalies. CCT is thus clearly partitioned, both functionally and evolutionary, into a substrate-binding side that is opposite to the ATP-hydrolyzing side.
Bacterial motility is driven by the rotation of flagellar filaments which supercoil. The supercoiling involves the switching of coiled-coil protofilaments between two different states. In archaea, the flagellar filaments responsible for motility are formed by proteins with distinct homology in their N-terminal portion to bacterial Type IV pilins. The bacterial pilins have a single N-terminal hydrophobic α-helix, not the coiled-coil found in flagellin. We have used cryo-EM to study the adhesion filaments from the archaeon Ignicoccus hospitalis. While I. hospitalis is non-motile, these filaments make transitions between rigid stretches and curved regions, and appear morphologically similar to true archaeal flagellar filaments. A resolution of ~ 7.5 Å allows us to unambiguously build a model for the packing of these N-terminal α-helices, and this packing is different from several bacterial Type IV pili whose structure has been analyzed by electron microscopy and modeling. Our results show that the mechanism responsible for the supercoiling of bacterial flagellar filaments cannot apply to archaeal filaments.
In X-ray crystallography, molecular replacement and subsequent refinement is challenging at low resolution. We compared refinement methods using synchrotron diffraction data of photosystem I at 7.4 Å resolution, starting from different initial models with increasing deviations from the known high-resolution structure. Standard refinement spoiled the initial models moving them further away from the true structure and leading to high Rfree-values. In contrast, DEN-refinement improved even the most distant starting model as judged by Rfree, atomic root-mean-square differences to the true structure, significance of features not included in the initial model, and connectivity of electron density. The best protocol was DEN-refinement with initial segmented rigid-body refinement. For the most distant initial model, the fraction of atoms within 2 Å of the true structure improved from 24% to 60%. We also found a significant correlation between Rfree-values and the accuracy of the model, suggesting that Rfree is useful even at low resolution.
DEN refinement; membrane protein; low-resolution refinement; simulated annealing; free R value
DEN refinement and automated model building with AutoBuild were used to determine the structure of a putative succinyl-diaminopimelate desuccinylase from C. glutamicum. This difficult case of molecular-replacement phasing shows that the synergism between DEN refinement and AutoBuild outperforms standard refinement protocols.
Phasing by molecular replacement remains difficult for targets that are far from the search model or in situations where the crystal diffracts only weakly or to low resolution. Here, the process of determining and refining the structure of Cgl1109, a putative succinyl-diaminopimelate desuccinylase from Corynebacterium glutamicum, at ∼3 Å resolution is described using a combination of homology modeling with MODELLER, molecular-replacement phasing with Phaser, deformable elastic network (DEN) refinement and automated model building using AutoBuild in a semi-automated fashion, followed by final refinement cycles with phenix.refine and Coot. This difficult molecular-replacement case illustrates the power of including DEN restraints derived from a starting model to guide the movements of the model during refinement. The resulting improved model phases provide better starting points for automated model building and produce more significant difference peaks in anomalous difference Fourier maps to locate anomalous scatterers than does standard refinement. This example also illustrates a current limitation of automated procedures that require manual adjustment of local sequence misalignments between the homology model and the target sequence.
reciprocal-space refinement; DEN refinement; real-space refinement; automated model building; succinyl-diaminopimelate desuccinylase
The deformable elastic network (DEN) method for reciprocal-space crystallographic refinement improves crystal structures, especially at resolutions lower than 3.5 Å. The DEN web service presented here intends to provide structural biologists with access to resources for running computationally intensive DEN refinements.
Deformable elastic network (DEN) restraints have proved to be a powerful tool for refining structures from low-resolution X-ray crystallographic data sets. Unfortunately, optimal refinement using DEN restraints requires extensive calculations and is often hindered by a lack of access to sufficient computational resources. The DEN web service presented here intends to provide structural biologists with access to resources for running computationally intensive DEN refinements in parallel on the Open Science Grid, the US cyberinfrastructure. Access to the grid is provided through a simple and intuitive web interface integrated into the SBGrid Science Portal. Using this portal, refinements combined with full parameter optimization that would take many thousands of hours on standard computational resources can now be completed in several hours. An example of the successful application of DEN restraints to the human Notch1 transcriptional complex using the grid resource, and summaries of all submitted refinements, are presented as justification.
deformable elastic network restraints; low-resolution refinement; DEN refinement
This Meeting Review describes the proceedings and conclusions from the inaugural meeting of the Electron Microscopy Validation Task Force organized by the Unified Data Resource for 3DEM (http://www.emdatabank.org) and held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ on September 28 and 29, 2010. At the workshop, a group of scientists involved in collecting electron microscopy data, using the data to determine three-dimensional electron microscopy (3DEM) density maps, and building molecular models into the maps explored how to assess maps, models, and other data that are deposited into the Electron Microscopy Data Bank and Protein Data Bank public data archives. The specific recommendations resulting from the workshop aim to increase the impact of 3DEM in biology and medicine.
Symmetry-free cryo-EM structures of the chaperonin TRiC along its ATPase-driven conformational cycle
Chaperonins are multisubunit entities that are composed of two stacked rings enclosing a central chamber for ATP-dependent protein folding. A series of cryo-EM structures of the eukaryotic group II chaperonin TRiC/CCT reveal the conformational changes during the ATPase cycle and provide insight into how the subunits cooperate to close the lid.
The eukaryotic group II chaperonin TRiC/CCT is a 16-subunit complex with eight distinct but similar subunits arranged in two stacked rings. Substrate folding inside the central chamber is triggered by ATP hydrolysis. We present five cryo-EM structures of TRiC in apo and nucleotide-induced states without imposing symmetry during the 3D reconstruction. These structures reveal the intra- and inter-ring subunit interaction pattern changes during the ATPase cycle. In the apo state, the subunit arrangement in each ring is highly asymmetric, whereas all nucleotide-containing states tend to be more symmetrical. We identify and structurally characterize an one-ring closed intermediate induced by ATP hydrolysis wherein the closed TRiC ring exhibits an observable chamber expansion. This likely represents the physiological substrate folding state. Our structural results suggest mechanisms for inter-ring-negative cooperativity, intra-ring-positive cooperativity, and protein-folding chamber closure of TRiC. Intriguingly, these mechanisms are different from other group I and II chaperonins despite their similar architecture.
asymmetric intermediate; conformational cycle; cryo-EM; protein folding; TRiC/CCT
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.
X-ray crystallography; homology modeling; cross-validation; Rfree value; refinement
Group II chaperonins are essential mediators of cellular protein folding in eukaryotes and archaea. These oligomeric protein machines, ~1MDa, consist of two back-to-back rings encompassing a central cavity that accommodates polypeptide substrates1,2,3. Chaperonin-mediated protein folding is critically dependent on the closure of a built-in lid4,5, which is triggered by ATP hydrolysis6. The structural rearrangements and molecular events leading to lid closure are still unknown. Here, we report four single particle cryo-EM structures of Mm-cpn, an archaeal group II chaperonin5,7, in the nucleotide-free (open) and nucleotide-induced (closed) states. The 4.3 Å resolution of the closed conformation allowed building of the first ever atomic model directly from the cryo-EM density map, in which we were able to visualize the nucleotide and over 70% of the sidechains. The model of the open conformation was obtained by using the deformable elastic network modeling with the 8 Å resolution open state cryo-EM density restraints. Together, the open and closed structures reveal how local conformational changes triggered by ATP hydrolysis lead to an alteration of intersubunit contacts within and across the rings, ultimately causing a rocking motion that closes the ring. Our analysis reveals an intricate and unforeseen set of interactions controlling allosteric communication and inter-ring signaling driving the conformational cycle of group II chaperonins. Beyond this, we anticipate our methodology of combining single particle cryo-EM and computational modeling will become a powerful tool in the determination of atomic details involved in the dynamic processes of macromolecular machines in solution.
Structural studies of large proteins and protein assemblies are a difficult and pressing challenge in molecular biology. Experiments often yield only low-resolution or sparse data which are not sufficient to fully determine atomistic structures. We have developed a general geometry-based algorithm that efficiently samples conformational space under constraints imposed by low-resolution density maps obtained from electron microscopy or X-ray crystallography experiments. A deformable elastic network (DEN) is used to restrain the sampling to prior knowledge of an approximate structure. The DEN restraints dramatically reduce over-fitting, especially at low resolution. Cross-validation is used to optimally weight the structural information and experimental data. Our algorithm is robust even for noise-added density maps and has a large radius of convergence for our test case. The DEN restraints can also be used to enhance reciprocal space simulated annealing refinement.
Cyclic nucleotide-modulated ion channels are important for signal transduction and pacemaking in eukaryotes. The molecular determinants of ligand gating in these channels are still unknown, mainly because of a lack of direct structural information. Here we report ligand-induced conformational changes in full-length MloK1, a cyclic nucleotide-modulated potassium channel from the bacterium Mesorhizobium loti, analysed by electron crystallography and atomic force microscopy. Upon cAMP binding, the cyclic nucleotide-binding domains move vertically towards the membrane, and directly contact the S1–S4 voltage sensor domains. This is accompanied by a significant shift and tilt of the voltage sensor domain helices. In both states, the inner pore-lining helices are in an ‘open’ conformation. We propose a mechanism in which ligand binding can favour pore opening via a direct interaction between the cyclic nucleotide-binding domains and voltage sensors. This offers a simple mechanistic hypothesis for the coupling between ligand gating and voltage sensing in eukaryotic HCN channels.
The molecular determinants underlying ligand gating of cyclic nucleotide-modulated ion channels remain unclear. Kowal et al. determine the conformational changes underlying cAMP binding to the bacterial channel MloK1, and propose a mechanism for coupling of ligand gating and voltage sensing in eukaryotic HCN channels.