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J Phys Chem B. 2016 Feb 4;120(4):621-32. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b08962. Epub 2016 Jan 20.

Multiscale Model for the Assembly Kinetics of Protein Complexes.

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Department of Systems and Computational Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine , 1300 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, New York 10461, United States.


The assembly of proteins into high-order complexes is a general mechanism for these biomolecules to implement their versatile functions in cells. Natural evolution has developed various assembling pathways for specific protein complexes to maintain their stability and proper activities. Previous studies have provided numerous examples of the misassembly of protein complexes leading to severe biological consequences. Although the research focusing on protein complexes has started to move beyond the static representation of quaternary structures to the dynamic aspect of their assembly, the current understanding of the assembly mechanism of protein complexes is still largely limited. To tackle this problem, we developed a new multiscale modeling framework. This framework combines a lower-resolution rigid-body-based simulation with a higher-resolution Cα-based simulation method so that protein complexes can be assembled with both structural details and computational efficiency. We applied this model to a homotrimer and a heterotetramer as simple test systems. Consistent with experimental observations, our simulations indicated very different kinetics between protein oligomerization and dimerization. The formation of protein oligomers is a multistep process that is much slower than dimerization but thermodynamically more stable. Moreover, we showed that even the same protein quaternary structure can have very diverse assembly pathways under different binding constants between subunits, which is important for regulating the functions of protein complexes. Finally, we revealed that the binding between subunits in a complex can be synergistically strengthened during assembly without considering allosteric regulation or conformational changes. Therefore, our model provides a useful tool to understand the general principles of protein complex assembly.

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