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1.  Probing protein aggregation using simplified models and discrete molecular dynamics 
Understanding the role of biomolecular dynamics in cellular processes leading to human diseases and the ability to rationally manipulate these processes is of fundamental importance in scientific research. The last decade has witnessed significant progress in probing biophysical behavior of proteins. However, we are still limited in understanding how changes in protein dynamics and inter-protein interactions occurring in short length- and time-scales lead to aberrations in their biological function. Bridging this gap in biology probed using computer simulations marks a challenging frontier in computational biology. Here we examine hypothesis-driven simplified protein models in conjunction with discrete molecular dynamics in the study of protein aggregation, implicated in series of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases. Discrete molecular dynamics simulations of simplified protein models have emerged as a powerful methodology with its ability to bridge the gap in time and length scales from protein dynamics to aggregation, and provide an indispensable tool for probing protein aggregation.
PMCID: PMC2497428  PMID: 18508545
Protein Aggregation; Protein Misfolding; Simplified Modeling; Aggregation Kinetics; Folding Thermodynamics; Discrete Molecular Dynamics; Molecular Dynamics; Computational Biology; Biophysics; MD; DMD; Misfolding; Molecular Dynamics; Review
2.  iFoldRNA: three-dimensional RNA structure prediction and folding 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(17):1951-1952.
Summary: Three-dimensional RNA structure prediction and folding is of significant interest in the biological research community. Here, we present iFoldRNA, a novel web-based methodology for RNA structure prediction with near atomic resolution accuracy and analysis of RNA folding thermodynamics. iFoldRNA rapidly explores RNA conformations using discrete molecular dynamics simulations of input RNA sequences. Starting from simplified linear-chain conformations, RNA molecules (<50 nt) fold to native-like structures within half an hour of simulation, facilitating rapid RNA structure prediction. All-atom reconstruction of energetically stable conformations generates iFoldRNA predicted RNA structures. The predicted RNA structures are within 2–5 Å root mean squre deviations (RMSDs) from corresponding experimentally derived structures. RNA folding parameters including specific heat, contact maps, simulation trajectories, gyration radii, RMSDs from native state, fraction of native-like contacts are accessible from iFoldRNA. We expect iFoldRNA will serve as a useful resource for RNA structure prediction and folding thermodynamic analyses.
Availability: http://iFoldRNA.dokhlab.org.
Contact: dokh@med.unc.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn328
PMCID: PMC2559968  PMID: 18579566
3.  MedusaScore: An Accurate Force-Field Based Scoring Function for Virtual Drug Screening 
Virtual screening is becoming an important tool for drug discovery. However, the application of virtual screening has been limited by the lack of accurate scoring functions. Here, we present a novel scoring function, MedusaScore, for evaluating protein-ligand binding. MedusaScore is based on models of physical interactions that include van der Waals, solvation and hydrogen bonding energies. To ensure the best transferability of the scoring function, we do not use any protein-ligand experimental data for parameter training. We then test the MedusaScore for docking decoy recognition and binding affinity prediction and find superior performance compared to other widely used scoring functions. Statistical analysis indicates that one source of inaccuracy of MedusaScore may arise from the unaccounted entropic loss upon ligand binding, which suggests avenues of approach for further MedusaScore improvement.
doi:10.1021/ci8001167
PMCID: PMC2665000  PMID: 18672869
4.  Natural Selection against Protein Aggregation on Self-Interacting and Essential Proteins in Yeast, Fly, and Worm 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2008;25(8):1530-1533.
Protein aggregation is the phenomenon of protein self-association potentially leading to detrimental effects on physiology, which is closely related to numerous human diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Despite progress in understanding the mechanism of protein aggregation, how natural selection against protein aggregation acts on subunits of protein complexes and on proteins with different contributions to organism fitness remains largely unknown. Here, we perform a proteome-wide analysis by using an experimentally validated algorithm TANGO and utilizing sequence, interactomic and phenotype-based functional genomic data from yeast, fly, and nematode. We find that proteins that are capable of forming homooligomeric complex have lower aggregation propensity compared with proteins that do not function as homooligomer. Further, proteins that are essential to the fitness of an organism have lower aggregation propensity compared with nonessential ones. Our finding suggests that the selection force against protein aggregation acts across different hierarchies of biological system.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msn122
PMCID: PMC2727382  PMID: 18503047
natural selection; protein aggregation; functional genomics; proteome; Drosophila melanogaster; Caenorhabditis elegans
5.  Ab initio folding of proteins using all-atom discrete molecular dynamics 
Structure (London, England : 1993)  2008;16(7):1010-1018.
Summary
Discrete molecular dynamics (DMD) is a rapid sampling method used in protein folding and aggregation studies. Until now, DMD was used to perform simulations of simplified protein models in conjunction with structure-based force fields. Here, we develop an all-atom protein model and a transferable force field featuring packing, solvation, and environment-dependent hydrogen bond interactions. Using the replica exchange method, we perform folding simulations of six small proteins (20–60 residues) with distinct native structures. In all cases, native or near-native states are reached in simulations. For three small proteins, multiple folding transitions are observed and the computationally-characterized thermodynamics are in quantitative agreement with experiments. The predictive power of all-atom DMD highlights the importance of environment-dependent hydrogen bond interactions in modeling protein folding. The developed approach can be used for accurate and rapid sampling of conformational spaces of proteins and protein-protein complexes, and applied to protein engineering and design of protein-protein interactions.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2008.03.013
PMCID: PMC2533517  PMID: 18611374
ab initio protein folding; environment-dependent hydrogen bond; replica exchange; free energy landscape; conformational sampling
6.  Computational studies reveal phosphorylation dependent changes in the unstructured R domain of CFTR 
Journal of molecular biology  2008;378(5):1052-1063.
The Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) is a cAMP dependent chloride channel that is mutated in cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease of high morbidity and mortality. The phosphorylation of its ∼200 amino acid R domain by protein kinase A is obligatory for channel gating under normal conditions. The R domain contains more than ten PKA phosphorylation sites. No individual site is essential but phosphorylation of increasing numbers of sites enables progressively greater channel activity. In spite of numerous studies of the role of the R domain in CFTR regulation, its mechanism of action remains largely unknown. This is because neither its structure nor its interactions with other parts of CFTR have been completely elucidated. Studies have shown that the R domain lacks well-defined secondary structural elements and is an intrinsically disordered region of the channel protein. Here, we have analyzed the disorder pattern and employed computational methods to explore low energy conformations of the R domain. Specific disorder and secondary structure patterns detected suggest the presence of Molecular Recognition Elements (MoREs) that may mediate phosphorylation regulated intra- and inter-domain interactions. Simulations were performed to generate an ensemble of accessible R domain conformations. Although the calculated structures may represent more compact conformers than occur in vivo, their secondary structure propensities are consistent with predictions and published experimental data. Equilibrium simulations of a mimic of a phosphorylated R domain showed that it exhibited an increased radius of gyration. In one possible interpretation of these findings, by changing its size, the globally unstructured R domain may act as an entropic spring to perturb the packing of membrane-spanning sequences that constitute the ion permeability pathway and thereby activate channel gating.
doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2008.03.033
PMCID: PMC2556564  PMID: 18423665
CFTR; R domain; phosphorylation; disordered protein; molecular dynamics
7.  iFoldRNA: Three-dimensional RNA Structure Prediction and Folding 
Bioinformatics (Oxford, England)  2008;24(17):1951-1952.
Summary
Three-dimensional RNA structure prediction and folding is of significant interest in the biological research community. Here, we present iFoldRNA, a novel web-based methodology for RNA structure prediction with near atomic resolution accuracy and analysis of RNA folding thermodynamics. iFoldRNA rapidly explores RNA conformations using discrete molecular dynamics simulations of input RNA sequences. Starting from simplified linear-chain conformations, RNA molecules (<50 nucleotides) fold to native-like structures within half an hour of simulation, facilitating rapid RNA structure prediction. All-atom reconstruction of energetically stable conformations generates iFoldRNA predicted RNA structures. The predicted RNA structures are within 2–5 Angstrom root mean square deviations from corresponding experimentally derived structures. RNA folding parameters including specific heat, contact maps, simulation trajectories, gyration radii, root mean square deviations from native state, fraction of native-like contacts are accessible from iFoldRNA. We expect iFoldRNA will serve as a useful resource for RNA structure prediction and folding thermodynamic analyses.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn328
PMCID: PMC2559968  PMID: 18579566
8.  Identification and Rational Redesign of Peptide Ligands to CRIP1, A Novel Biomarker for Cancers 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(8):e1000138.
Cysteine-rich intestinal protein 1 (CRIP1) has been identified as a novel marker for early detection of cancers. Here we report on the use of phage display in combination with molecular modeling to identify a high-affinity ligand for CRIP1. Panning experiments using a circularized C7C phage library yielded several consensus sequences with modest binding affinities to purified CRIP1. Two sequence motifs, A1 and B5, having the highest affinities for CRIP1, were chosen for further study. With peptide structure information and the NMR structure of CRIP1, the higher-affinity A1 peptide was computationally redesigned, yielding a novel peptide, A1M, whose affinity was predicted to be much improved. Synthesis of the peptide and saturation and competitive binding studies demonstrated approximately a 10–28-fold improvement in the affinity of A1M compared to that of either A1 or B5 peptide. These techniques have broad application to the design of novel ligand peptides.
Author Summary
Breast cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed malignancies in American females and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. Several improvements in diagnostic protocols have enhanced our ability for earlier detection of breast cancer, resulting in improvement of therapeutic outcome and an increased survival rate for breast cancer patients. However, current early screening techniques are neither comprehensive nor infallible. Imaging techniques that improve breast cancer detection, localization, and evaluation of therapy are essential in combating the disease. Cysteine-rich intestinal protein 1 (CRIP1) has been identified as a novel marker for early detection of breast cancers. Here, we report the use of phage display and computational molecular modeling to identify a high-affinity ligand for CRIP1. Phage display panning experiments initially identified consensus peptide sequences with modest binding affinity to purified CRIP1. Using ab initio modeling of binding peptide structures, computational docking, and recently developed free energy estimation protocols, we redesigned the peptides to increase their affinity for CRIP1. Synthesis of the redesigned peptide and binding studies demonstrated approximately a 10–28-fold improvement in the binding affinity. The combination of computational and experimental techniques in this study demonstrates a potentially powerful tool in modulating protein–protein interactions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000138
PMCID: PMC2453235  PMID: 18670594
9.  Active Nuclear Receptors Exhibit Highly Correlated AF-2 Domain Motions 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(7):e1000111.
Nuclear receptor ligand binding domains (LBDs) convert ligand binding events into changes in gene expression by recruiting transcriptional coregulators to a conserved activation function-2 (AF-2) surface. While most nuclear receptor LBDs form homo- or heterodimers, the human nuclear receptor pregnane X receptor (PXR) forms a unique and essential homodimer and is proposed to assemble into a functional heterotetramer with the retinoid X receptor (RXR). How the homodimer interface, which is located 30 Å from the AF-2, would affect function at this critical surface has remained unclear. By using 20- to 30-ns molecular dynamics simulations on PXR in various oligomerization states, we observed a remarkably high degree of correlated motion in the PXR–RXR heterotetramer, most notably in the four helices that create the AF-2 domain. The function of such correlation may be to create “active-capable” receptor complexes that are ready to bind to transcriptional coactivators. Indeed, we found in additional simulations that active-capable receptor complexes involving other orphan or steroid nuclear receptors also exhibit highly correlated AF-2 domain motions. We further propose a mechanism for the transmission of long-range motions through the nuclear receptor LBD to the AF-2 surface. Taken together, our findings indicate that long-range motions within the LBD scaffold are critical to nuclear receptor function by promoting a mobile AF-2 state ready to bind coactivators.
Author Summary
Long-range motions play essential roles in protein function but are difficult to appreciate from static crystal structures. We sought to understand how macromolecular motion affects the formation of transcriptional complexes central to controlling gene expression. Using 20- to 30-ns molecular dynamics simulations, we examined three nuclear receptors that function as ligand-regulated transcription factors: the pregnane X receptor, the peroxisome proliferator-activator receptor-γ, and estrogen receptor-α. We found that each of these receptors exhibits a high degree of correlated motions within the domain responsible for forming functionally essential protein–protein interactions with transcriptional coactivators. We further found that specific long-range (up to 30 Å) motions play an important role in these dynamics. Our results show that “active-capable” nuclear receptors are prepared for coactivator contacts by maintaining a mobile but preformed protein–protein interaction surface.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000111
PMCID: PMC2432469  PMID: 18617990
10.  Diminished Self-Chaperoning Activity of the ΔF508 Mutant of CFTR Results in Protein Misfolding 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(2):e1000008.
The absence of a functional ATP Binding Cassette (ABC) protein called the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) from apical membranes of epithelial cells is responsible for cystic fibrosis (CF). Over 90% of CF patients carry at least one mutant allele with deletion of phenylalanine at position 508 located in the N-terminal nucleotide binding domain (NBD1). Biochemical and cell biological studies show that the ΔF508 mutant exhibits inefficient biosynthetic maturation and susceptibility to degradation probably due to misfolding of NBD1 and the resultant misassembly of other domains. However, little is known about the direct effect of the Phe508 deletion on the NBD1 folding, which is essential for rational design strategies of cystic fibrosis treatment. Here we show that the deletion of Phe508 alters the folding dynamics and kinetics of NBD1, thus possibly affecting the assembly of the complete CFTR. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we find that meta-stable intermediate states appearing on wild type and mutant folding pathways are populated differently and that their kinetic accessibilities are distinct. The structural basis of the increased misfolding propensity of the ΔF508 NBD1 mutant is the perturbation of interactions in residue pairs Q493/P574 and F575/F578 found in loop S7-H6. As a proof-of-principle that the S7-H6 loop conformation can modulate the folding kinetics of NBD1, we virtually design rescue mutations in the identified critical interactions to force the S7-H6 loop into the wild type conformation. Two redesigned NBD1-ΔF508 variants exhibited significantly higher folding probabilities than the original NBD1-ΔF508, thereby partially rescuing folding ability of the NBD1-ΔF508 mutant. We propose that these observed defects in folding kinetics of mutant NBD1 may also be modulated by structures separate from the 508 site. The identified structural determinants of increased misfolding propensity of NBD1-ΔF508 are essential information in correcting this pathogenic mutant.
Author Summary
Deletion of a single residue, phenylalanine at position 508, in the first nucleotide binding domain (NBD1) of the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) is present in approximately 90% of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Experiments show that this mutant protein exhibits inefficient biosynthetic maturation and susceptibility to degradation probably due to misfolding of NBD1 and the resultant incorrect interactions of other domains. However, little is known about the direct effect of the Phe508 deletion on NBD1 folding. Here, using molecular dynamics simulations of NBD1-WT, NBD1-F508A, and NBD1-ΔF508, we show that the deletion of Phe508 indeed alters the kinetics of NBD1 folding. We also find that the intermediate states appearing on wild type and mutant folding pathways are populated differently and that their kinetic accessibilities are distinct. Moreover, we identified critical interactions not necessarily localized near position 508, such as Q493/P574 and F575/F587, to be significant structural elements influencing the kinetic difference between wild type and mutant NBD1. We propose that these observed alterations in folding kinetics of mutant NBD1 result in misassembly of the whole multi-domain protein, thereby causing its premature degradation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000008
PMCID: PMC2265529  PMID: 18463704

Results 1-10 (10)