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J Mol Biol. 2002 Jul 12;320(3):597-608.

On the role of the crystal environment in determining protein side-chain conformations.

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Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.


The role of crystal packing in determining the observed conformations of amino acid side-chains in protein crystals is investigated by (1) analysis of a database of proteins that have been crystallized in different unit cells (space group or unit cell dimensions) and (2) theoretical predictions of side-chain conformations with the crystal environment explicitly represented. Both of these approaches indicate that the crystal environment plays an important role in determining the conformations of polar side-chains on the surfaces of proteins. Inclusion of the crystal environment permits a more sensitive measurement of the achievable accuracy of side-chain prediction programs, when validating against structures obtained by X-ray crystallography. Our side-chain prediction program uses an all-atom force field and a Generalized Born model of solvation and is thus capable of modeling simple packing effects (i.e. van der Waals interactions), electrostatic effects, and desolvation, which are all important mechanisms by which the crystal environment impacts observed side-chain conformations. Our results are also relevant to the understanding of changes in side-chain conformation that may result from ligand docking and protein-protein association, insofar as the results reveal how side-chain conformations change in response to their local environment.

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