Protein-lipid interactions play essential roles in the conformational stability and biological functions of membrane proteins. However, few of the previous computational studies have taken into account the atomic details of protein-lipid interactions explicitly.
To gain an insight into the molecular mechanisms of the recognition of lipid molecules by membrane proteins, we investigated amino acid propensities in membrane proteins for interacting with the head and tail groups of lipid molecules. We observed a common pattern of lipid tail-amino acid interactions in two different data sources, crystal structures and molecular dynamics simulations. These interactions are largely explained by general lipophilicity, whereas the preferences for lipid head groups vary among individual proteins. We also found that membrane and water-soluble proteins utilize essentially an identical set of amino acids for interacting with lipid head and tail groups.
We showed that the lipophilicity of amino acid residues determines the amino acid preferences for lipid tail groups in both membrane and water-soluble proteins, suggesting that tightly-bound lipid molecules and lipids in the annular shell interact with membrane proteins in a similar manner. In contrast, interactions between lipid head groups and amino acids showed a more variable pattern, apparently constrained by each protein's specific molecular function.
DNA is a carrier of biological information. The hybridization process, the formation of the DNA double-helix from single-strands with complementary sequences, is important for all living cells. DNA microarrays, among other biotechnologies such as PCR, rely on DNA hybridization. However, to date the thermodynamics of hybridization is only partly understood. Here we address, experimentally and theoretically, the hybridization of oligonucleotide strands of unequal lengths, which form a bulged loop upon hybridization. For our study we use in-house synthesized DNA microarrays.
We synthesize a microarray with additional thymine bases in the probe sequence motifs so that bulged loops occur upon target hybridization. We observe a monotonic decrease of the fluorescence signal of the hybridized strands with increasing length of the bulged loop. This corresponds to a decrease in duplex binding affinity within the considered loop lengths of one to thirteen bases. By varying the position of the bulged loop along the DNA duplex, we observe a symmetric signal variation with respect to the center of the strand. We reproduce the experimental results well using a molecular zipper model at thermal equilibrium. However, binding states between both strands, which emerge through duplex opening at the position of the bulged loop, need to be taken into account.
We show that stable DNA duplexes with a bulged loop can form from short strands of unequal length and they contribute substantially to the fluorescence intensity from the hybridized strands on a microarray. In order to reproduce the result with the help of equilibrium thermodynamics, it is essential (and to a good approximation sufficient) to consider duplex opening not only at the ends but also at the position of the bulged loop. Although the thermodynamic parameters used in this study are taken from hybridization experiments in solution, these parameters fit our DNA microarray data well.
Along with high affinity binding of epibatidine (Kd1≈10 pM) to α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), low affinity binding of epibatidine (Kd2≈1-10 nM) to an independent binding site has been reported. Studying this low affinity binding is important because it might contribute understanding about the structure and synthesis of α4β2 nAChR. The binding behavior of epibatidine and α4β2 AChR raises a question about interpreting binding data from two independent sites with ligand depletion and nonspecific binding, both of which can affect equilibrium binding of [3H]epibatidine and α4β2 nAChR. If modeled incorrectly, ligand depletion and nonspecific binding lead to inaccurate estimates of binding constants. Fitting total equilibrium binding as a function of total ligand accurately characterizes a single site with ligand depletion and nonspecific binding. The goal of this study was to determine whether this approach is sufficient with two independent high and low affinity sites.
Computer simulations of binding revealed complexities beyond fitting total binding for characterizing the second, low affinity site of α4β2 nAChR. First, distinguishing low-affinity specific binding from nonspecific binding was a potential problem with saturation data. Varying the maximum concentration of [3H]epibatidine, simultaneously fitting independently measured nonspecific binding, and varying α4β2 nAChR concentration were effective remedies. Second, ligand depletion helped identify the low affinity site when nonspecific binding was significant in saturation or competition data, contrary to a common belief that ligand depletion always is detrimental. Third, measuring nonspecific binding without α4β2 nAChR distinguished better between nonspecific binding and low-affinity specific binding under some circumstances of competitive binding than did presuming nonspecific binding to be residual [3H]epibatidine binding after adding a large concentration of cold competitor. Fourth, nonspecific binding of a heterologous competitor changed estimates of high and low inhibition constants but did not change the ratio of those estimates.
Investigating the low affinity site of α4β2 nAChR with equilibrium binding when ligand depletion and nonspecific binding are present likely needs special attention to experimental design and data interpretation beyond fitting total binding data. Manipulation of maximum ligand and receptor concentrations and intentionally increasing ligand depletion are potentially helpful approaches.
Robust self-organization of subcellular structures is a key principle governing the dynamics and evolution of cellular life. In fission yeast cells undergoing division, the mitotic spindle spontaneously emerges from the interaction of microtubules, motor proteins and the confining cell walls, and asters and vortices have been observed to self-assemble in quasi-two dimensional microtubule-kinesin assays. There is no clear microscopic picture of the role of the active motors driving this pattern formation, and the relevance of continuum modeling to filament-scale structures remains uncertain.
Here we present results of numerical simulations of a discrete filament-motor protein model confined to a pressurised cylindrical box. Stable spindles, nematic configurations, asters and high-density semi-asters spontaneously emerge, the latter pair having also been observed in cytosol confined within emulsion droplets. State diagrams are presented delineating each stationary state as the pressure, motor speed and motor density are varied. We further highlight a parameter regime where vortices form exhibiting collective rotation of all filaments, but have a finite life-time before contracting to a semi-aster. Quantifying the distribution of life-times suggests this contraction is a Poisson process. Equivalent systems with fixed volume exhibit persistent vortices with stochastic switching in the direction of rotation, with switching times obeying similar statistics to contraction times in pressurised systems. Furthermore, we show that increasing the detachment rate of motors from filament plus-ends can both destroy vortices and turn some asters into vortices.
We have shown that discrete filament-motor protein models provide new insights into the stationary and dynamical behavior of active gels and subcellular structures, because many phenomena occur on the length-scale of single filaments. Based on our findings, we argue the need for a deeper understanding of the microscopic activities underpinning macroscopic self-organization in active gels and urge further experiments to help bridge these lengths.
We are exploring the viability of a novel approach to cardiocyte contractility assessment based on biomechanical properties of the cardiac cells, energy conservation principles, and information content measures. We define our measure of cell contraction as being the distance between the shapes of the contracting cell, assessed by the minimum total energy of the domain deformation (warping) of one cell shape into another. To guarantee a meaningful vis-à-vis correspondence between the two shapes, we employ both a data fidelity term and a regularization term. The data fidelity term is based on nonlinear features of the shapes while the regularization term enforces the compatibility between the shape deformations and that of a hyper-elastic material.
We tested the proposed approach by assessing the contractile responses in isolated adult rat cardiocytes and contrasted these measurements against two different methods for contractility assessment in the literature. Our results show good qualitative and quantitative agreements with these methods as far as frequency, pacing, and overall behavior of the contractions are concerned.
We hypothesize that the proposed methodology, once appropriately developed and customized, can provide a framework for computational cardiac cell biomechanics that can be used to integrate both theory and experiment. For example, besides giving a good assessment of contractile response of the cardiocyte, since the excitation process of the cell is a closed system, this methodology can be employed in an attempt to infer statistically significant model parameters for the constitutive equations of the cardiocytes.
The heat-shock response network controls the adaptation and survival of the cell against environmental stress. This network is highly conserved and is connected with many other signaling pathways. A key element of the heat-shock network is the heat-shock transcription factor-1 (HSF), which is transiently activated by elevated temperatures. HSF translocates to the nucleus upon elevated temperatures, forming homotrimeric complexes. The HSF homotrimers bind to the heat shock element on the DNA and control the expression of the hsp70 gene. The Hsp70 proteins protect cells from thermal stress. Thermal stress causes the unfolding of proteins, perturbing thus the pathways under their control. By binding to these proteins, Hsp70 allows them to refold and prevents their aggregation. The modulation of the activity of the hsp70-promoter by the intensity of the input stress is thus critical for cell's survival. The promoter activity starts from a basal level and rapidly increases once the stress is applied, reaches a maximum level and attenuates slowely back to the basal level. This phenomenon is the hallmark of many experimental studies and of all computational network analysis.
The molecular construct used as a measure of the response to thermal stress is a Hsp70-GFP fusion gene transfected in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. The time profile of the GFP protein depends on the transient activity, Transient(t), of the heat shock system. The function Transient(t) depends on hsp70 promoter activity, transcriptional regulation and the translation initiation effects elicited by the heat stress. The GFP time profile is recorded using flow cytometry measurements, a technique that allows a quantitative measurement of the fluorescence of a large number of cells (104). The GFP responses to one and two heat shocks were measured for 261 conditions of different temperatures and durations. We found that: (i) the response of the cell to two consecutive shocks (i.e., no recovery time in between shocks) depends on the order of the input shocks, that is the shocks do not commute; (ii) the responses may be classified as mild or severe, depending on the temperature level and the duration of the heat shock and (iii) the response is highly sensitive to small variations in temperature.
We propose a mathematical model that maps temperature into the transient activity using experimental data that describes the time course of the response to input thermal stress. The model is built on thermotolerance without recovery time, sharp sensitivity to small variations in temperature and the existence of mild and severe classes of stress responses. The theoretical predictions are tested against experimental data using a series of double-shock inputs. The theoretical structure is represented by a sequence of three cascade processes that transform the input stress into the transient activity. The structure of the cascade is nonlinear-linear-nonlinear (NLN). The first nonlinear system (N) from the NLN structure represents the amplification of small changes in the environmental temperature; the linear system (L) represents the thermotolerance without recovery time, whereas the last system (N) represents the transition of the cell's response from a mild to a severe shock.
Regulation of integrin binding to the specific complementary sites on extra-cellular matrix (ECM) proteins plays a major role in cell adhesion and migration. In addition to regulating single integrin-ligand bonds by affinity modulation, cells regulate their adhesiveness by forming integrin clusters. Although it is clear that cells exhibit different adhesion and migration behaviors on surfaces coated with different concentrations of ECM proteins, it is not clear if this response is mediated by changes in the availability of integrin binding sites or by differential intracellular signaling that may affect integrin binding and clustering.
To quantify how the concentration of ECM affects integrin clustering, we seeded cells expressing the integrin αIIbβ3 on different concentrations of the complementary ECM protein fibrinogen (Fg) and measured the resulting integrin cluster properties. We observed heterogeneity in the properties of integrin clusters, and to characterize this population heterogeneity we use a probabilistic modeling approach to quantify changes to the distributions of integrin cluster size, shape, and location.
Our results indicate that in response to increasing ECM density cells form smaller integrin clusters that are less elongated and closer to the cell periphery. These results suggest that cells can sense the availability of ECM binding sites and consequently regulate integrin clustering as a function of ECM density.
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) has been used as analytical tool in chemistry for many years. In addition, FTIR can also be applied as a rapid and non-invasive method to detect and identify microorganisms. The specific and fingerprint-like spectra allow - under optimal conditions - discrimination down to the species level. The aim of this study was to develop a fast and reproducible non-molecular method to differentiate pure samples of Bacillus spores originating from different species as well as to identify spores in a simple matrix, such as the clay mineral, bentonite.
We investigated spores from pure cultures of seven different Bacillus species by FTIR in reflection or transmission mode followed by chemometrical data treatment. All species investigated (B. atrophaeus, B. brevis, B. circulans, B. lentus, B. megaterium, B. subtilis, B. thuringiensis) are typical aerobic soil-borne spore formers. Additionally, a solid matrix (bentonite) and mixtures of benonite with spores of B. megaterium at various wt/wt ratios were included in the study. Both hierarchical cluster analysis and principal component analysis of the spectra along with multidimensional scaling allowed the discrimination of different species and spore-matrix-mixtures.
Our results show that FTIR spectroscopy is a fast method for species-level discrimination of Bacillus spores. Spores were still detectable in the presence of the clay mineral bentonite. Even a tenfold excess of bentonite (corresponding to 2.1 × 1010 colony forming units per gram of mineral matrix) still resulted in an unambiguous identification of B. megaterium spores.
Bacillus spores; infrared spectroscopy; FTIR; clay minerals; bentonite; mineral matrix
Solutions containing high macromolecule concentrations are predicted to affect a number of protein properties compared to those properties in dilute solution. In cells, these macromolecular crowders have a large range of sizes and can occupy 30% or more of the available volume. We chose to study the stability and ps-ns internal dynamics of a globular protein whose radius is ~2 nm when crowded by a synthetic microgel composed of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide-co-acrylic acid) with particle radii of ~300 nm.
Our studies revealed no change in protein rotational or ps-ns backbone dynamics and only mild (~0.5 kcal/mol at 37°C, pH 5.4) stabilization at a volume occupancy of 70%, which approaches the occupancy of closely packing spheres. The lack of change in rotational dynamics indicates the absence of strong crowder-protein interactions.
Our observations are explained by the large size discrepancy between the protein and crowders and by the internal structure of the microgels, which provide interstitial spaces and internal pores where the protein can exist in a dilute solution-like environment. In summary, microgels that interact weakly with proteins do not strongly influence protein dynamics or stability because these large microgels constitute an upper size limit on crowding effects.
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.
Although biological membranes are organized as lipid bilayers, they contain a substantial fraction of lipids that have a strong tendency to adopt a nonlamellar, most often inverted hexagonal (HII) phase. The polymorphic phase behavior of such nonbilayer lipids has been studied previously with a variety of methods in the fully hydrated state or at different degrees of dehydration. Here, we present a study of the thermotropic phase behavior of the nonbilayer lipids egg phosphatidylethanolamine (EPE) and monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG) with a focus on interactions between the lipid molecules in the interfacial and headgroup regions.
Liposomes were investigated in the dry state by Fourier-transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC). Dry EPE showed a gel to liquid-crystalline phase transition below 0°C and a liquid-crystalline to HII transition at 100°C. MGDG, on the other hand, was in the liquid-crystalline phase down to -30°C and showed a nonbilayer transition at about 85°C. Mixtures (1:1 by mass) with two different phosphatidylcholines (PC) formed bilayers with no evidence for nonbilayer transitions up to 120°C. FTIR spectroscopy revealed complex interactions between the nonbilayer lipids and PC. Strong H-bonding interactions occurred between the sugar headgroup of MGDG and the phosphate, carbonyl and choline groups of PC. Similarly, the ethanolamine moiety of EPE was H-bonded to the carbonyl and choline groups of PC and probably interacted through charge pairing with the phosphate group.
This study provides a comprehensive characterization of dry membranes containing the two most important nonbilayer lipids (PE and MGDG) in living cells. These data will be of particular relevance for the analysis of interactions between membranes and low molecular weight solutes or soluble proteins that are presumably involved in cellular protection during anhydrobiosis.
Understanding biological networks requires identifying their elementary protein interactions and establishing the timing and strength of those interactions. Fluorescence microscopy and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) have the potential to reveal such information because they allow molecular interactions to be monitored in living cells, but it is unclear how best to analyze FRET data. Existing techniques differ in assumptions, manipulations of data and the quantities they derive. To address this variation, we have developed a versatile Bayesian analysis based on clear assumptions and systematic statistics.
Our algorithm infers values of the FRET efficiency and dissociation constant, Kd, between a pair of fluorescently tagged proteins. It gives a posterior probability distribution for these parameters, conveying more extensive information than single-value estimates can. The width and shape of the distribution reflects the reliability of the estimate and we used simulated data to determine how measurement noise, data quantity and fluorophore concentrations affect the inference. We are able to show why varying concentrations of donors and acceptors is necessary for estimating Kd. We further demonstrate that the inference improves if additional knowledge is available, for example of the FRET efficiency, which could be obtained from separate fluorescence lifetime measurements.
We present a general, systematic approach for extracting quantitative information on molecular interactions from FRET data. Our method yields both an estimate of the dissociation constant and the uncertainty associated with that estimate. The information produced by our algorithm can help design optimal experiments and is fundamental for developing mathematical models of biochemical networks.
Hydrophobins are small proteins produced by filamentous fungi that have a variety of biological functions including coating of spores and surface adhesion. To accomplish these functions, they rely on unique interface-binding properties. Using atomic-detail implicit solvent rigid-body Brownian dynamics simulations, we studied the diffusion of HFBI, a class II hydrophobin from Trichoderma reesei, in aqueous solution in the presence and absence of a graphite surface.
In the simulations, HFBI exists in solution as a mixture of monomers in equilibrium with different types of oligomers. The oligomerization state depends on the conformation of HFBI. When a Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite (HOPG) layer is present in the simulated system, HFBI tends to interact with the HOPG layer through a hydrophobic patch on the protein.
From the simulations of HFBI solutions, we identify a tetrameric encounter complex stabilized by non-polar interactions between the aliphatic residues in the hydrophobic patch on HFBI. After the formation of the encounter complex, a local structural rearrangement at the protein interfaces is required to obtain the tetrameric arrangement seen in HFBI crystals. Simulations performed with the graphite surface show that, due to a combination of a geometric hindrance and the interaction of the aliphatic sidechains with the graphite layer, HFBI proteins tend to accumulate close to the hydrophobic surface.
Eukaryotic genomes possess an elaborate and dynamic higher-order structure within the limiting confines of the cell nucleus. Knowledge of the physical principles and the molecular machinery that govern the 3D organization of this structure and its regulation are key to understanding the relationship between genome structure and function. Elegant microscopy and chromosome conformation capture techniques supported by analysis based on polymer models are important steps in this direction. Here, we review results from these efforts and provide some additional insights that elucidate the relationship between structure and function at different hierarchical levels of genome organization.
Brownian Dynamics (BD) is a coarse-grained implicit-solvent simulation method that is routinely used to investigate binary protein association dynamics, but due to its efficiency in handling large simulation volumes and particle numbers it is well suited to also describe many-protein scenarios as they often occur in biological cells.
Here we introduce our "brownmove" simulation package which was designed to handle many-particle problems with varying particle numbers and allows for a very flexible definition of rigid and flexible protein and polymer models. Both a Brownian and a Langevin dynamics (LD) propagation scheme can be used and hydrodynamic interactions are treated efficiently with our recently introduced TEA-HI ansatz [Geyer, Winter, JCP 130 (2009) 114905]. With simulations of constrained polymers and flexible models of spherical proteins we demonstrate that it is crucial to include hydrodynamics when multi-bead models are used in BD or LD simulations. Only then both the translational and the rotational diffusion coefficients and the timescales of the internal dynamics can be reproduced correctly. In the third example project we show how constant density boundary conditions [Geyer et al, JCP 120 (2004) 4573] can be used to set up a non-equilibrium simulation of diffusional transport across an array of fixed obstacles. Finally, we demonstrate how the agglomeration dynamics of multiple particles with attractive patches can be analysed conveniently with the help of a dynamic interaction network.
Combining BD and LD propagation, fast hydrodynamics, a flexible protein model, and interfaces for "open" simulation settings, our freely available "brownmove" simulation package constitutes a new platform for coarse-grained many-particle simulations of biologically relevant diffusion and transport processes.
The binding and active sites of proteins are often dynamically occluded by motion of the nearby polypeptide. A variety of theoretical and computational methods have been developed to predict rates of ligand binding and reactivity in such cases. Two general approaches exist, "protein centric" approaches that explicitly treat only the protein target, and more detailed dynamical simulation approaches in which target and ligand are both treated explicitly. This mini-review describes recent work in this area and some of the biological implications.
The diffusion and reaction of the transmitter acetylcholine in neuromuscular junctions and the diffusion and binding of Ca2+ in the dyadic clefts of ventricular myocytes have been extensively modeled by Monte Carlo simulations and by finite-difference and finite-element solutions. However, an analytical solution that can serve as a benchmark for testing these numerical methods has been lacking.
Here we present an analytical solution to a model for the diffusion and reaction of acetylcholine in a neuromuscular junction and for the diffusion and binding of Ca2+ in a dyadic cleft. Our model is similar to those previously solved numerically and our results are also qualitatively similar.
The analytical solution provides a unique benchmark for testing numerical methods and potentially provides a new avenue for modeling biochemical transport.
Macromolecular diffusion plays a fundamental role in biological processes. Here, we give an overview of recent methodological advances and some of the challenges for understanding how molecular diffusional properties influence biological function that were highlighted at a recent workshop, BDBDB2, the second Biological Diffusion and Brownian Dynamics Brainstorm.
This editorial celebrates the re-launch of PMC Biophysics previously published by PhysMath Central, in its new format as BMC Biophysics published by BioMed Central with an expanded scope and Editorial Board. BMC Biophysics will fill its own niche in the BMC series alongside complementary companion journals including BMC Bioinformatics, BMC Medical Physics, BMC Structural Biology and BMC Systems Biology.
Biochemical reactions in living systems occur in complex, heterogeneous media with total concentrations of macromolecules in the range of 50 - 400 mgml. Molecular species occupy a significant fraction of the immersing medium, up to 40% of volume. Such complex and volume-occupied environments are generally termed 'crowded' and/or 'confined'. In crowded conditions non-specific interactions between macromolecules may hinder diffusion - a major process determining metabolism, transport, and signaling. Also, the crowded media can alter, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the reactions in vivo in comparison with their in vitro counterparts. This review focuses on recent developments in particle-based Brownian dynamics algorithms, their applications to model diffusive transport in crowded systems, and their abilities to reproduce and predict the behavior of macromolecules under in vivo conditions.
We have devised a protocol for the Brownian dynamics simulation of an analytical ultracentrifugation experiment that allows for an accurate and efficient prediction of the time-dependent concentration profiles, c(r, t) in the ultracentrifuge cell. The procedure accounts for the back-diffusion, described as a Brownian motion that superimposes to the centrifugal drift, and considers the sector-shaped geometry of the cell and the boundaries imposed by the meniscus and bottom.
Simulations are carried out for four molecules covering a wide range of the ratio of sedimentation and diffusion coefficients. The evaluation is done by extracting the molecular parameters that were initially employed in the simulation by analyzing the profiles with an independent tool, the well-proved SEDFIT software. The code of simulation algorithm has been parallelized in order to take advantage of current multi-core computers.
Our Brownian dynamics simulation procedure may be considered as an alternative to other predictors based in numerical solutions of the Lamm equation, and its efficiency could make it useful in the most relevant, inverse problem, which is that of extracting the molecular parameters from experimentally determined concentration profiles.