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Acta Crystallogr D Biol Crystallogr. 2011 Apr;67(Pt 4):376-85. doi: 10.1107/S0907444911007232. Epub 2011 Mar 18.

Macromolecular complexes in crystals and solutions.

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CCP4, Research Complex at Harwell, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Didcot, Oxon, England.


This paper presents a discussion of existing methods for the analysis of macromolecular interactions and complexes in crystal packing. Typical situations and conditions where wrong answers may be obtained in the course of ordinary procedures are presented and discussed. The more general question of what the relationship is between natural (in-solvent) and crystallized assemblies is discussed and researched. A computational analysis suggests that weak interactions with K(d) ≥ 100 µM have a considerable chance of being lost during the course of crystallization. In such instances, crystal packing misrepresents macromolecular complexes and interactions. For as many as 20% of protein dimers in the PDB the likelihood of misrepresentation is estimated to be higher than 50%. Given that weak macromolecular interactions play an important role in many biochemical processes, these results suggest that a complementary noncrystallographic study should be always conducted when inferring structural aspects of weakly bound complexes.

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