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Biophys J. 2007 Sep 15;93(6):1950-9. Epub 2007 May 11.

Computational prediction of atomic structures of helical membrane proteins aided by EM maps.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Department of Cell Biology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA.


Integral membrane proteins pose a major challenge for protein-structure prediction because only approximately 100 high-resolution structures are available currently, thereby impeding the development of rules or empirical potentials to predict the packing of transmembrane alpha-helices. However, when an intermediate-resolution electron microscopy (EM) map is available, it can be used to provide restraints which, in combination with a suitable computational protocol, make structure prediction feasible. In this work we present such a protocol, which proceeds in three stages: 1), generation of an ensemble of alpha-helices by flexible fitting into each of the density rods in the low-resolution EM map, spanning a range of rotational angles around the main helical axes and translational shifts along the density rods; 2), fast optimization of side chains and scoring of the resulting conformations; and 3), refinement of the lowest-scoring conformations with internal coordinate mechanics, by optimizing the van der Waals, electrostatics, hydrogen bonding, torsional, and solvation energy contributions. In addition, our method implements a penalty term through a so-called tethering map, derived from the EM map, which restrains the positions of the alpha-helices. The protocol was validated on three test cases: GpA, KcsA, and MscL.

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