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1.  Differential Regulation of 6- and 7-Transmembrane Helix Variants of μ-Opioid Receptor in Response to Morphine Stimulation 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(11):e0142826.
The pharmacological effect of opioids originates, at the cellular level, by their interaction with the μ-opioid receptor (mOR) resulting in the regulation of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels and inwardly rectifying K+ channels that ultimately modulate the synaptic transmission. Recently, an alternative six trans-membrane helix isoform of mOR, (6TM-mOR) has been identified, but its function and signaling are still largely unknown. Here, we present the structural and functional mechanisms of 6TM-mOR signaling activity upon binding to morphine. Our data suggest that despite the similarity of binding modes of the alternative 6TM-mOR and the dominant seven trans-membrane helix variant (7TM-mOR), the interaction with morphine generates different dynamic responses in the two receptors, thus, promoting the activation of different mOR-specific signaling pathways. We characterize a series of 6TM-mOR-specific cellular responses, and observed that they are significantly different from those for 7TM-mOR. Morphine stimulation of 6TM-mOR does not promote a cellular cAMP response, while it increases the intracellular Ca2+ concentration and reduces the cellular K+ conductance. Our findings indicate that 6TM-mOR has a unique contribution to the cellular opioid responses. Therefore, it should be considered as a relevant target for the development of novel pharmacological tools and medical protocols involving the use of opioids.
PMCID: PMC4640872  PMID: 26554831
2.  Discrete Molecular Dynamics Can Predict Helical Prestructured Motifs in Disordered Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e95795.
Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) lack a stable tertiary structure, but their short binding regions termed Pre-Structured Motifs (PreSMo) can form transient secondary structure elements in solution. Although disordered proteins are crucial in many biological processes and designing strategies to modulate their function is highly important, both experimental and computational tools to describe their conformational ensembles and the initial steps of folding are sparse. Here we report that discrete molecular dynamics (DMD) simulations combined with replica exchange (RX) method efficiently samples the conformational space and detects regions populating α-helical conformational states in disordered protein regions. While the available computational methods predict secondary structural propensities in IDPs based on the observation of protein-protein interactions, our ab initio method rests on physical principles of protein folding and dynamics. We show that RX-DMD predicts α-PreSMos with high confidence confirmed by comparison to experimental NMR data. Moreover, the method also can dissect α-PreSMos in close vicinity to each other and indicate helix stability. Importantly, simulations with disordered regions forming helices in X-ray structures of complexes indicate that a preformed helix is frequently the binding element itself, while in other cases it may have a role in initiating the binding process. Our results indicate that RX-DMD provides a breakthrough in the structural and dynamical characterization of disordered proteins by generating the structural ensembles of IDPs even when experimental data are not available.
PMCID: PMC3998973  PMID: 24763499
3.  Thermal Unfolding Pathway of PHD2 Catalytic Domain in Three Different PHD2 Species: Computational Approaches 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47061.
Prolyl hydroxylase domain 2 containing protein (PHD2) is a key protein in regulation of angiogenesis and metastasis. In normoxic condition, PHD2 triggers the degradation of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1α) that induces the expression of hypoxia response genes. Therefore the correct function of PHD2 would inhibit angiogenesis and consequent metastasis of tumor cells in normoxic condition. PHD2 mutations were reported in some common cancers. However, high levels of HIF-1α protein were observed even in normoxic metastatic tumors with normal expression of wild type PHD2. PHD2 malfunctions due to protein misfolding may be the underlying reason of metastasis and invasion in such cases. In this study, we scrutinize the unfolding pathways of the PHD2 catalytic domain’s possible species and demonstrate the properties of their unfolding states by computational approaches. Our study introduces the possibility of aggregation disaster for the prominent species of PHD2 during its partial unfolding. This may justify PHD2 inability to regulate HIF-1α level in some normoxic tumor types.
PMCID: PMC3471951  PMID: 23077544
4.  Intra- and Inter-Subunit Disulfide Bond Formation Is Nonessential in Adeno-Associated Viral Capsids 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e32163.
The capsid proteins of adeno-associated viruses (AAV) have five conserved cysteine residues. Structural analysis of AAV serotype 2 reveals that Cys289 and Cys361 are located adjacent to each other within each monomer, while Cys230 and Cys394 are located on opposite edges of each subunit and juxtaposed at the pentamer interface. The Cys482 residue is located at the base of a surface loop within the trimer region. Although plausible based on molecular dynamics simulations, intra- or inter-subunit disulfides have not been observed in structural studies. In the current study, we generated a panel of Cys-to-Ser mutants to interrogate the potential for disulfide bond formation in AAV capsids. The C289S, C361S and C482S mutants were similar to wild type AAV with regard to titer and transduction efficiency. However, AAV capsid protein subunits with C230S or C394S mutations were prone to proteasomal degradation within the host cells. Proteasomal inhibition partially blocked degradation of mutant capsid proteins, but failed to rescue infectious virions. While these results suggest that the Cys230/394 pair is critical, a C394V mutant was found viable, but not the corresponding C230V mutant. Although the exact nature of the structural contribution(s) of Cys230 and Cys394 residues to AAV capsid formation remains to be determined, these results support the notion that disulfide bond formation within the Cys289/361 or Cys230/394 pair appears to be nonessential. These studies represent an important step towards understanding the role of inter-subunit interactions that drive AAV capsid assembly.
PMCID: PMC3289628  PMID: 22389684
5.  Structural Mechanism of S-Adenosyl Methionine Binding to Catechol O-Methyltransferase 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e24287.
Methyltransferases possess a homologous domain that requires both a divalent metal cation and S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) to catalyze its reactions. The kinetics of several methyltransferases has been well characterized; however, the details regarding their structural mechanisms have remained unclear to date. Using catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) as a model, we perform discrete molecular dynamics and computational docking simulations to elucidate the initial stages of cofactor binding. We find that COMT binds SAM via an induced-fit mechanism, where SAM adopts a different docking pose in the absence of metal and substrate in comparison to the holoenzyme. Flexible modeling of the active site side-chains is essential for observing the lowest energy state in the apoenzyme; rigid docking tools are unable to recapitulate the pose unless the appropriate side-chain conformations are given a priori. From our docking results, we hypothesize that the metal reorients SAM in a conformation suitable for donating its methyl substituent to the recipient ligand. The proposed mechanism enables a general understanding of how divalent metal cations contribute to methyltransferase function.
PMCID: PMC3164188  PMID: 21904625
6.  Flanking Bases Influence the Nature of DNA Distortion by Platinum 1,2-Intrastrand (GG) Cross-Links 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23582.
The differences in efficacy and molecular mechanisms of platinum anti-cancer drugs cisplatin (CP) and oxaliplatin (OX) are thought to be partially due to the differences in the DNA conformations of the CP and OX adducts that form on adjacent guanines on DNA, which in turn influence the binding of damage-recognition proteins that control downstream effects of the adducts. Here we report a comprehensive comparison of the structural distortion of DNA caused by CP and OX adducts in the TGGT sequence context using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. When compared to our previous studies in other sequence contexts, these structural studies help us understand the effect of the sequence context on the conformation of Pt-GG DNA adducts. We find that both the sequence context and the type of Pt-GG DNA adduct (CP vs. OX) play an important role in the conformation and the conformational dynamics of Pt-DNA adducts, possibly explaining their influence on the ability of many damage-recognition proteins to bind to Pt-DNA adducts.
PMCID: PMC3154474  PMID: 21853154
7.  A Folding Pathway-Dependent Score to Recognize Membrane Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e16778.
While various approaches exist to study protein localization, it is still a challenge to predict where proteins localize. Here, we consider a mechanistic viewpoint for membrane localization. Taking into account the steps for the folding pathway of α-helical membrane proteins and relating biophysical parameters to each of these steps, we create a score capable of predicting the propensity for membrane localization and call it FP3mem. This score is driven from the principal component analysis (PCA) of the biophysical parameters related to membrane localization. FP3mem allows us to rationalize the colocalization of a number of channel proteins with the Cav1.2 channel by their fewer propensities for membrane localization.
PMCID: PMC3046963  PMID: 21390303
8.  A Didactic Model of Macromolecular Crowding Effects on Protein Folding 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e11936.
A didactic model is presented to illustrate how the effect of macromolecular crowding on protein folding and association is modeled using current analytical theory and discrete molecular dynamics. While analytical treatments of crowding may consider the effect as a potential of average force acting to compress a polypeptide chain into a compact state, the use of simulations enables the presence of crowding reagents to be treated explicitly. Using an analytically solvable toy model for protein folding, an approximate statistical thermodynamic method is directly compared to simulation in order to gauge the effectiveness of current analytical crowding descriptions. Both methodologies are in quantitative agreement under most conditions, indication that both current theory and simulation methods are capable of recapitulating aspects of protein folding even by utilizing a simplistic protein model.
PMCID: PMC2914742  PMID: 20689808

Results 1-8 (8)