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1.  Protein Binding for Detection of Small Changes on Nanoparticle Surface 
The Analyst  2014;139(6):1364-1371.
Protein adsorption on nanoparticles is closely associated with the physicochemical properties of particles, in particular, their surface property. We synthesized two batches of polyacrylic acid-coated nanoparticles under almost identical conditions except for heating duration and found differences in the head-group structure of the polyacrylic acid. The structure change was confirmed by NMR and MS. The two batches of particles had varied binding affinities to a selected group of proteins. Computational work confirmed that the head group of the polymer on the surface of a nanoparticle could directly interact with a protein, and small structural changes in the head group were sufficient to result in a significant difference in the free energy of binding. Our results demonstrate that protein adsorption is so sensitive to the surface property of particles that it can reveal even small variations in the structure of a nanoparticle surface ligand, and should be useful for quick assessment of nanoparticle properties.
PMCID: PMC4232385  PMID: 24482794
2.  Achieving Peptide Binding Specificity and Promiscuity by Loops: Case of the Forkhead-Associated Domain 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e98291.
The regulation of a series of cellular events requires specific protein–protein interactions, which are usually mediated by modular domains to precisely select a particular sequence from diverse partners. However, most signaling domains can bind to more than one peptide sequence. How do proteins create promiscuity from precision? Moreover, these complex interactions typically occur at the interface of a well-defined secondary structure, α helix and β sheet. However, the molecular recognition primarily controlled by loop architecture is not fully understood. To gain a deep understanding of binding selectivity and promiscuity by the conformation of loops, we chose the forkhead-associated (FHA) domain as our model system. The domain can bind to diverse peptides via various loops but only interact with sequences containing phosphothreonine (pThr). We applied molecular dynamics (MD) simulations for multiple free and bound FHA domains to study the changes in conformations and dynamics. Generally, FHA domains share a similar folding structure whereby the backbone holds the overall geometry and the variety of sidechain atoms of multiple loops creates a binding surface to target a specific partner. FHA domains determine the specificity of pThr by well-organized binding loops, which are rigid to define a phospho recognition site. The broad range of peptide recognition can be attributed to different arrangements of the loop interaction network. The moderate flexibility of the loop conformation can help access or exclude binding partners. Our work provides insights into molecular recognition in terms of binding specificity and promiscuity and helpful clues for further peptide design.
PMCID: PMC4037201  PMID: 24870410
3.  Mechanism of PhosphoThreonine/Serine Recognition and Specificity for Modular Domains from All-atom Molecular Dynamics 
BMC Biophysics  2011;4:12.
Phosphopeptide-binding domains mediate many vital cellular processes such as signal transduction and protein recognition. We studied three well-known domains important for signal transduction: BRCT repeats, WW domain and forkhead-associated (FHA) domain. The first two recognize both phosphothreonine (pThr) and phosphoserine (pSer) residues, but FHA has high specificity for pThr residues. Here we used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to reveal how FHA exclusively chooses pThr and how BRCT and WW recognize both pThr/pSer. The work also investigated the energies and thermodynamic information of intermolecular interactions.
Simulations carried out included wide-type and mutated systems. Through analysis of MD simulations, we found that the conserved His residue defines dual loops feature of the FHA domain, which creates a small cavity reserved for only the methyl group of pThr. These well-organized loop interactions directly response to the pThr binding selectivity, while single loop (the 2nd phosphobinding site of FHA) or in combination with α-helix (BRCT repeats) or β-sheet (WW domain) fail to differentiate pThr/pSer.
Understanding the domain pre-organizations constructed by conserved residues and the driving force of domain-phosphopeptide recognition provides structural insight into pThr specific binding, which also helps in engineering proteins and designing peptide inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3146460  PMID: 21612598

Results 1-3 (3)