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1.  Rapid flexible docking using a stochastic rotamer library of ligands 
Existing flexible docking approaches model the ligand and receptor flexibility either separately or in a loosely-coupled manner, which captures the conformational changes inefficiently. Here, we propose a flexible docking approach, MedusaDock, which models both ligand and receptor flexibility simultaneously with sets of discrete rotamers. We develop an algorithm to build the ligand rotamer library “on-the-fly” during docking simulations. MedusaDock benchmarks demonstrate a rapid sampling efficiency and high prediction accuracy in both self-docking (to the co-crystallized state) and cross-docking (to a state co-crystallized with a different ligand), the latter of which mimics the virtual-screening procedure in computational drug discovery. We also perform a virtual-screening test of four flexible kinase targets including cyclin-dependent kinase 2, vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2, HIV reverse transcriptase, and HIV protease. We find significant improvements of virtual-screening enrichments when compared to rigid-receptor methods. The predictive power of MedusaDock in cross-docking and preliminary virtual-screening benchmarks highlights the importance to model both ligand and receptor flexibility simultaneously in computational docking.
doi:10.1021/ci100218t
PMCID: PMC2947618  PMID: 20712341
2.  N-terminal strands of filamin Ig domains act as a conformational switch under biological forces 
Proteins  2010;78(1):12-24.
Conformational changes of filamin A under stress have been postulated to play crucial roles in signaling pathways of cell responses. Direct observation of conformational changes under stress is beyond the resolution of current experimental techniques. On the other hand, computational studies are mainly limited to either traditional molecular dynamics simulations of short durations and high forces or simulations of simplified models. Here we perform all-atom discrete molecular dynamics (DMD) simulations to study thermally and force-induced unfolding of filamin A. The high conformational sampling efficiency of DMD allows us to observe force-induced unfolding of filamin A Ig domains under physiological forces. The computationally identified critical unfolding forces agree well with experimental measurements. Despite a large heterogeneity in the population of force-induced intermediate states, we find a common initial unfolding intermediate in all the Ig domains of filamin, where the N-terminal strand unfolds. We also study the thermal unfolding of several filamin Ig-like domains. We find that thermally induced unfolding features an early-stage intermediate state similar to the one observed in force-induced unfolding and characterized by N-terminal strand being unfurled. We propose that the N-terminal strand may act as a conformational switch that unfolds under physiological forces leading to exposure of cryptic binding sites, removal of native binding sites, and modulating the quaternary structure of domains.
doi:10.1002/prot.22479
PMCID: PMC2804786  PMID: 19514078
3.  Light-regulation of protein dimerization and kinase activity in living cells using photocaged rapamycin and engineered FKBP 
We developed a new system for light-induced protein dimerization in living cells using a novel photocaged analog of rapamycin (pRap) together with an engineered rapamycin binding domain (iFKBP). Using focal adhesion kinase as a target, we demonstrated successful light-mediated regulation of protein interaction and localization in living cells. Modification of this approach enabled light-triggered activation of a protein kinase and initiation of kinase-induced phenotypic changes in vivo.
doi:10.1021/ja109630v
PMCID: PMC3133816  PMID: 21162531
4.  Approaches for probing the sequence space of substrates recognized by molecular chaperones 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2010;53(3):318-324.
Neurodegeneration, the progressive loss of function in neurons that eventually leads to their death, is the cause of many neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. Protein aggregation is a hallmark of most neurodegenerative diseases, where unfolded proteins form intranuclear, cytosolic, and extracellular insoluble aggregates in neurons. Mounting evidence from studies in neurodegenerative disease models shows that molecular chaperones, key regulators of protein aggregation and degradation, play critical roles in the progression of neurodegeneration. Although chaperones exhibit promiscuity in their substrate specificity, specific molecular features are required for substrate recognition. Understanding the basis for substrate recognition by chaperones will aid in the development of therapeutic strategies that regulate chaperone expression levels in order to combat neurodegeneration. Many experimental techniques, including alanine scanning mutagenesis and phage display library screening, have been developed and applied to understand the basis of substrate recognition by chaperones. Here, we present computational algorithms that can be applied to rapidly screen the sequence space of potential substrates to determine the sequence and structural requirements for substrate recognition by chaperones.
doi:10.1016/j.ymeth.2010.12.034
PMCID: PMC3057280  PMID: 21195183
5.  Computational design of a PAK1 binding protein 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;400(2):257-270.
We describe a computational protocol, called DDMI, for redesigning scaffold proteins to bind to a specified region on a target protein. The DDMI protocol is implemented within the Rosetta molecular modeling program and uses rigid-body docking, sequence design, and gradient-based minimization of backbone and side chain torsion angles to design low energy interfaces between the scaffold and target protein. Iterative rounds of sequence design and conformational optimization were needed to produce models that have calculated binding energies that are similar to binding energies calculated for native complexes. We also show that additional conformation sampling with molecular dynamics can be iterated with sequence design to further lower the computed energy of the designed complexes. To experimentally test the DDMI protocol we redesigned the human hyperplastic discs protein to bind to the kinase domain of p21-activated kinase 1 (PAK1). Six designs were experimentally characterized. Two of the designs aggregated and were not characterized further. Of the remaining four designs, three bound to the PAK1 with affinities tighter than 350 μM. The tightest binding design, named Spider Roll, bound with an affinity of 100 μM. NMR –based structure prediction of Spider Roll based on backbone and 13Cβ chemical shifts using the program CS-ROSETTA indicated that the architecture of human hyperplastic discs protein is preserved. Mutagenesis studies confirmed that Spider Roll binds the target patch on PAK1. Additionally, Spider Roll binds to full length PAK1 in its activated state, but does not bind PAK1 when it forms an auto-inhibited conformation that blocks the Spider Roll target site. Subsequent NMR characterization of the binding of Spider Roll to PAK1 revealed a comparably small binding `on-rate' constant (<< 105 M−1 s−1). The ability to rationally design the site of novel protein-protein interactions is an important step towards creating new proteins that are useful as therapeutics or molecular probes.
doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2010.05.006
PMCID: PMC2903434  PMID: 20460129
Computational protein design; protein-protein interactions; protein docking; Rosetta molecular modeling program; NMR; CS-ROSETTA
6.  Robust and Generic RNA Modeling Using Inferred Constraints: A Structure for the Hepatitis C Virus IRES Pseudoknot Domain 
Biochemistry  2010;49(24):4931-4933.
RNA function is dependent on its structure, yet three-dimensional folds for most biologically important RNAs are unknown. We develop a generic discrete molecular dynamics (DMD)-based modeling system that uses long-range constraints inferred from diverse biochemical or bioinformatic analyses to create statistically significant (p < 0.01) native-like folds for RNAs of known structure ranging from 45 to 158 nucleotides. We then predict the unknown structure of the hepatitis C virus IRES pseudoknot domain. The resulting RNA model rationalizes independent solvent accessibility and cryo-electron microscopy structure information. The pseudoknot positions the AUG start codon near the mRNA channel and is tRNA-like, suggesting the IRES employs molecular mimicry as a functional strategy.
doi:10.1021/bi100142y
PMCID: PMC2889920  PMID: 20545364
7.  Macromolecular crowding induces polypeptide compaction and decreases folding cooperativity 
A cell's interior is comprised of macromolecules that can occupy up to 40% of its available volume. Such crowded environments can influence the stability of proteins and their rates of reaction. Using discrete molecular dynamics simulations, we investigate how both the size and number of neighboring crowding reagents affect the thermodynamic and folding properties of structurally diverse proteins. We find that crowding induces higher compaction of proteins. We also find that folding becomes less cooperative with the introduction of crowders into the system. The crowders may induce alternative non-native protein conformations, thus creating barriers for protein folding in highly crowded media.
PMCID: PMC3050011  PMID: 20355290
8.  Engineered allosteric activation of kinases in living cells 
Nature biotechnology  2010;28(7):743-747.
Studies of cellular and tissue dynamics benefit greatly from tools that can control protein activity with specificity and precise timing in living systems. We describe here a new approach to confer allosteric regulation specifically on the catalytic activity of kinases. A highly conserved portion of the kinase catalytic domain is modified with a small protein insert that inactivates catalytic activity, but does not affect other protein interactions. Catalytic activity is restored by addition of rapamycin or non-immunosuppresive analogs (Fig. 1A). We demonstrate the approach by specifically activating focal adhesion kinase (FAK) within minutes in living cells, thereby demonstrating a novel role for FAK in regulation of membrane dynamics. Molecular modeling and mutagenesis indicate that the protein insert reduces activity by increasing the flexibility of the catalytic domain. Drug binding restores activity by increasing rigidity. Successful regulation of Src and p38 suggest that modification of this highly conserved site will be applicable to other kinases.
doi:10.1038/nbt.1639
PMCID: PMC2902629  PMID: 20581846
9.  Regulation of the epithelial Na+ channel and airway surface liquid volume by serine proteases 
Mammalian airways are protected from infection by a thin film of airway surface liquid (ASL) which covers airway epithelial surfaces and acts as a lubricant to keep mucus from adhering to the epithelial surface. Precise regulation of ASL volume is essential for efficient mucus clearance and too great a reduction in ASL volume causes mucus dehydration and mucus stasis which contributes to chronic airway infection. The epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) is the rate-limiting step that governs Na+ absorption in the airways. Recent in vitro and in vivo data have demonstrated that ENaC is a critical determinant of ASL volume and hence mucus clearance. ENaC must be cleaved by either intracellular furin-type proteases or extracellular serine proteases to be active and conduct Na+, and this process can be inhibited by protease inhibitors. ENaC can be regulated by multiple pathways, and once proteolytically cleaved ENaC may then be inhibited by intracellular second messengers such as cAMP and PIP2. In the airways, however, regulation of ENaC by proteases seems to be the predominant mode of regulation since knockdown of either endogenous serine proteases such as prostasin, or inhibitors of ENaC proteolysis such as SPLUNC1, has large effects on ENaC activity in airway epithelia. In this review, we shall discuss how ENaC is proteolytically cleaved, how this process can regulate ASL volume, and how its failure to operate correctly may contribute to chronic airway disease.
doi:10.1007/s00424-010-0827-z
PMCID: PMC2955882  PMID: 20401730
Na+ channel; Cystic fibrosis; Epithelial transport; Fluid absorption; Lung liquid
10.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011936
PMCID: PMC2914742  PMID: 20689808
11.  Polyglutamine Induced Misfolding of Huntingtin Exon1 is Modulated by the Flanking Sequences 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(4):e1000772.
Polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in exon1 (XN1) of the huntingtin protein is linked to Huntington's disease. When the number of glutamines exceeds a threshold of approximately 36–40 repeats, XN1 can readily form amyloid aggregates similar to those associated with disease. Many experiments suggest that misfolding of monomeric XN1 plays an important role in the length-dependent aggregation. Elucidating the misfolding of a XN1 monomer can help determine the molecular mechanism of XN1 aggregation and potentially help develop strategies to inhibit XN1 aggregation. The flanking sequences surrounding the polyQ region can play a critical role in determining the structural rearrangement and aggregation mechanism of XN1. Few experiments have studied XN1 in its entirety, with all flanking regions. To obtain structural insights into the misfolding of XN1 toward amyloid aggregation, we perform molecular dynamics simulations on monomeric XN1 with full flanking regions, a variant missing the polyproline regions, which are hypothesized to prevent aggregation, and an isolated polyQ peptide (Qn). For each of these three constructs, we study glutamine repeat lengths of 23, 36, 40 and 47. We find that polyQ peptides have a positive correlation between their probability to form a β-rich misfolded state and their expansion length. We also find that the flanking regions of XN1 affect its probability to^x_page_count=28 form a β-rich state compared to the isolated polyQ. Particularly, the polyproline regions form polyproline type II helices and decrease the probability of the polyQ region to form a β-rich state. Additionally, by lengthening polyQ, the first N-terminal 17 residues are more likely to adopt a β-sheet conformation rather than an α-helix conformation. Therefore, our molecular dynamics study provides a structural insight of XN1 misfolding and elucidates the possible role of the flanking sequences in XN1 aggregation.
Author Summary
Huntington's Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with protein aggregation in neurons. The aggregates formed are thought to lead to neurotoxicity and cell death. Understanding the molecular structure of these aggregates may lead to strategies to inhibit aggregation. Exon 1 (XN1) of the huntingtin protein is critical for aggregate formation. This polypeptide has a naturally occurring polyglutamine sequence (polyQ), which is elongated in patients afflicted with the disease. The polyQ region in XN1 has several flanking sequences with distinct physicochemical properties, including the N-terminal 17 residues, two polyproline regions, and C-terminal sequences, that may affect its overall structure and aggregation. What is the overall structure of XN1, and what structural effects do the neighboring sequences have on each other and polyQ? We address these questions by studying computational models of various polypeptides, including XN1 and three mutant forms associated with Huntington's Disease. Certain neighboring sequences are found to inhibit aggregation, while others may be recruited by polyQ to form aggregates. Our results suggest the role that the flanking sequences may play in XN1 aggregation and may subsequently guide future structural models of XN1 aggregation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000772
PMCID: PMC2861695  PMID: 20442863

Results 1-11 (11)