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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e29176. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029176. Epub 2012 Feb 22.

Calculating ensemble averaged descriptions of protein rigidity without sampling.

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Department of Bioinformatics and Genomics, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States of America.


Previous works have demonstrated that protein rigidity is related to thermodynamic stability, especially under conditions that favor formation of native structure. Mechanical network rigidity properties of a single conformation are efficiently calculated using the integer body-bar Pebble Game (PG) algorithm. However, thermodynamic properties require averaging over many samples from the ensemble of accessible conformations to accurately account for fluctuations in network topology. We have developed a mean field Virtual Pebble Game (VPG) that represents the ensemble of networks by a single effective network. That is, all possible number of distance constraints (or bars) that can form between a pair of rigid bodies is replaced by the average number. The resulting effective network is viewed as having weighted edges, where the weight of an edge quantifies its capacity to absorb degrees of freedom. The VPG is interpreted as a flow problem on this effective network, which eliminates the need to sample. Across a nonredundant dataset of 272 protein structures, we apply the VPG to proteins for the first time. Our results show numerically and visually that the rigidity characterizations of the VPG accurately reflect the ensemble averaged [Formula: see text] properties. This result positions the VPG as an efficient alternative to understand the mechanical role that chemical interactions play in maintaining protein stability.

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