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1.  Multiscale approaches for studying energy transduction in dynein 
Cytoplasmic dynein is an important motor that drives all minus-end directed movement along microtubules. Dynein is a complex motor whose processive motion is driven by ATP-hydrolysis. Dynein's run length has been measured to be several millimetres with typical velocities in the order of a few nanometres per second. Therefore, the average time between steps is a fraction of a second. When this time scale is compared with typical time scales for protein side chain and backbone movements (~10−9 s and ~10−5 s, respectively), it becomes clear that a multi-timescale modelling approach is required to understand energy transduction in this protein. Here, we review recent efforts to use computational and mathematical modelling to understand various aspects of dynein's chemomechanical cycle. First, we describe a structural model of dynein's motor unit showing a heptameric organization of the motor subunits. Second, we describe our molecular dynamics simulations of the motor unit that are used to investigate the dynamics of the various motor domains. Third, we present a kinetic model of the coordination between the two dynein heads. Lastly, we investigate the various potential geometries of the dimer during its hydrolytic and stepping cycle.
PMCID: PMC2823375  PMID: 19506759
2.  Native-like RNA tertiary structures using a sequence-encoded cleavage agent and refinement by discrete molecular dynamics 
The difficulty of analyzing higher order RNA structure, especially for folding intermediates and for RNAs whose functions require domains that are conformationally flexible, emphasizes the need for new approaches for modeling RNA tertiary structure accurately. Here, we report a concise approach that makes use of facile RNA structure probing experiments that are then interpreted using a computational algorithm, carefully tailored to optimize both the resolution and refinement speed for the resulting structures, without requiring user intervention. The RNA secondary structure is first established using SHAPE chemistry. We then use a sequence-directed cleavage agent, that can be placed arbitrarily in many helical motifs, to obtain high quality inter-residue distances. We interpret this in-solution chemical information using a fast, coarse grained, discrete molecular dynamics engine in which each RNA nucleotide is represented by pseudoatoms for the phosphate, ribose and nucleobase groups. By this approach, we refine base paired positions in yeast tRNAAsp to 4 Å RMSD without any preexisting information or assumptions about secondary or tertiary structures. This blended experimental and computational approach has the potential to yield native-like models for the diverse universe of functionally important RNAs whose structures cannot be characterized by conventional structural methods.
PMCID: PMC2664099  PMID: 19193004
3.  Outcome of a Workshop on Applications of Protein Models in Biomedical Research 
We describe the proceedings and conclusions from a “Workshop on Applications of Protein Models in Biomedical Research” that was held at University of California at San Francisco on 11 and 12 July, 2008. At the workshop, international scientists involved with structure modeling explored (i) how models are currently used in biomedical research, (ii) what the requirements and challenges for different applications are, and (iii) how the interaction between the computational and experimental research communities could be strengthened to advance the field.
PMCID: PMC2739730  PMID: 19217386
4.  Analysis of the Free-Energy Surface of Proteins from Reversible Folding Simulations 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(7):e1000428.
Computer generated trajectories can, in principle, reveal the folding pathways of a protein at atomic resolution and possibly suggest general and simple rules for predicting the folded structure of a given sequence. While such reversible folding trajectories can only be determined ab initio using all-atom transferable force-fields for a few small proteins, they can be determined for a large number of proteins using coarse-grained and structure-based force-fields, in which a known folded structure is by construction the absolute energy and free-energy minimum. Here we use a model of the fast folding helical λ-repressor protein to generate trajectories in which native and non-native states are in equilibrium and transitions are accurately sampled. Yet, representation of the free-energy surface, which underlies the thermodynamic and dynamic properties of the protein model, from such a trajectory remains a challenge. Projections over one or a small number of arbitrarily chosen progress variables often hide the most important features of such surfaces. The results unequivocally show that an unprojected representation of the free-energy surface provides important and unbiased information and allows a simple and meaningful description of many-dimensional, heterogeneous trajectories, providing new insight into the possible mechanisms of fast-folding proteins.
Author Summary
The process of protein folding is a complex transition from a disordered to an ordered state. Here, we simulate a specific fast-folding protein at the point at which the native and denatured states are at equilibrium and show that obtaining an accurate description of the mechanisms of folding and unfolding is far from trivial. Using simple quantities which quantify the degree of native order is, in the case of this protein, clearly misleading. We show that an unbiased representation of the free-energy surface can be obtained; using such a representation we are able to redesign the landscape and thus modify, upon site-specific “mutations”, the folding and unfolding rates. This leads us to formulate a hypothesis to explain the very fast folding of many proteins.
PMCID: PMC2700257  PMID: 19593364
5.  A Structural Model of the Pore-Forming Region of the Skeletal Muscle Ryanodine Receptor (RyR1) 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(4):e1000367.
Ryanodine receptors (RyRs) are ion channels that regulate muscle contraction by releasing calcium ions from intracellular stores into the cytoplasm. Mutations in skeletal muscle RyR (RyR1) give rise to congenital diseases such as central core disease. The absence of high-resolution structures of RyR1 has limited our understanding of channel function and disease mechanisms at the molecular level. Here, we report a structural model of the pore-forming region of RyR1. Molecular dynamics simulations show high ion binding to putative pore residues D4899, E4900, D4938, and D4945, which are experimentally known to be critical for channel conductance and selectivity. We also observe preferential localization of Ca2+ over K+ in the selectivity filter of RyR1. Simulations of RyR1-D4899Q mutant show a loss of preference to Ca2+ in the selectivity filter as seen experimentally. Electrophysiological experiments on a central core disease mutant, RyR1-G4898R, show constitutively open channels that conduct K+ but not Ca2+. Our simulations with G4898R likewise show a decrease in the preference of Ca2+ over K+ in the selectivity filter. Together, the computational and experimental results shed light on ion conductance and selectivity of RyR1 at an atomistic level.
Author Summary
Ryanodine receptors (RyRs) are ion channels present in the membranes of an intracellular calcium storage organelle, the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Nerve impulse triggers the opening of RyR channels, thus increasing the cytoplasmic calcium levels, which subsequently leads to muscle contraction. Congenital mutations in a specific type of RyR that is present in skeletal muscles, RyR1, lead to central core disease (CCD), which leads to weakened muscle. RyR1 mutations also render patients to be highly susceptible to malignant hyperthermia, an adverse reaction to general anesthesia. Although it is generally known that CCD mutations abort RyR1 function, the molecular basis of RyR1 dysfunction remains largely unknown because of the lack of atomic-level structure. Here, we present a structural model of the RyR1 pore region, where many of the CCD mutations are located. Molecular dynamics simulations of the pore region confirm the positions of residues experimentally known to be relevant for function. Furthermore, electrophysiological experiments and simulations shed light on the loss of function of CCD mutant channels. The combined theoretical and experimental studies on RyR1 elucidate the ion conduction pathway of RyR1 and a potential molecular origin of muscle diseases.
PMCID: PMC2668181  PMID: 19390614
6.  Structural basis for the sequence-dependent effects of platinum–DNA adducts 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(8):2434-2448.
The differences in efficacy and molecular mechanisms of platinum based anti-cancer drugs cisplatin (CP) and oxaliplatin (OX) have been hypothesized to be in part due to the differential binding affinity of cellular and damage recognition proteins to CP and OX adducts formed on adjacent guanines in genomic DNA. HMGB1a in particular exhibits higher binding affinity to CP-GG adducts, and the extent of discrimination between CP- and OX-GG adducts is dependent on the bases flanking the adducts. However, the structural basis for this differential binding is not known. Here, we show that the conformational dynamics of CP- and OX-GG adducts are distinct and depend on the sequence context of the adduct. Molecular dynamics simulations of the Pt-GG adducts in the TGGA sequence context revealed that even though the major conformations of CP- and OX-GG adducts were similar, the minor conformations were distinct. Using the pattern of hydrogen bond formation between the Pt–ammines and the adjacent DNA bases, we identified the major and minor conformations sampled by Pt–DNA. We found that the minor conformations sampled exclusively by the CP-GG adduct exhibit structural properties that favor binding by HMGB1a, which may explain its higher binding affinity to CP-GG adducts, while these conformations are not sampled by OX-GG adducts because of the constraints imposed by its cyclohexane ring, which may explain the negligible binding affinity of HMGB1a for OX-GG adducts in the TGGA sequence context. Based on these results, we postulate that the constraints imposed by the cyclohexane ring of OX affect the DNA conformations explored by OX-GG adduct compared to those of CP-GG adduct, which may influence the binding affinities of HMG-domain proteins for Pt-GG adducts, and that these conformations are further influenced by the DNA sequence context of the Pt-GG adduct.
PMCID: PMC2677858  PMID: 19255091
7.  Thermodynamics of calmodulin binding to cardiac and skeletal muscle ryanodine receptor ion channels 
Proteins  2009;74(1):207-211.
The skeletal muscle (RyR1) and cardiac muscle (RyR2) ryanodine receptor calcium release channels contain a single, conserved calmodulin (CaM) binding domain, yet are differentially regulated by CaM. Here, we report that high-affinity [35S]CaM binding to RyR1 is driven by favorable enthalpic and entropic contributions at Ca2+ concentrations from <0.01 to 100 μM. At 0.15 μM Ca2+, [35S]CaM bound to RyR2 with decreased affinity and binding enthalpy compared with RyR1. The rates of [35S]CaM dissociation from RyR1 increased as the temperature was raised, whereas at 0.15 μM Ca2+ the rate from RyR2 was little affected. The results suggest major differences in the energetics of CaM binding to and dissociation from RyR1 and RyR2.
PMCID: PMC2605178  PMID: 18618700
Ca2+ release channel; sarcoplasmic reticulum; ryanodine receptor; binding enthalpy; binding entropy

Results 1-7 (7)