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Proteins. 2007 Nov 15;69(3):449-65.

A large data set comparison of protein structures determined by crystallography and NMR: statistical test for structural differences and the effect of crystal packing.

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BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology, Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium and Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA.


The existence of a large number of proteins for which both nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and X-ray crystallographic coordinates have been deposited into the Protein Data Bank (PDB) makes the statistical comparison of the corresponding crystal and NMR structural models over a large data set possible, and facilitates the study of the effect of the crystal environment and other factors on structure. We present an approach for detecting statistically significant structural differences between crystal and NMR structural models which is based on structural superposition and the analysis of the distributions of atomic positions relative to a mean structure. We apply this to a set of 148 protein structure pairs (crystal vs NMR), and analyze the results in terms of methodological and physical sources of structural difference. For every one of the 148 structure pairs, the backbone root-mean-square distance (RMSD) over core atoms of the crystal structure to the mean NMR structure is larger than the average RMSD of the members of the NMR ensemble to the mean, with 76% of the structure pairs having an RMSD of the crystal structure to the mean more than a factor of two larger than the average RMSD of the NMR ensemble. On average, the backbone RMSD over core atoms of crystal structure to the mean NMR is approximately 1 A. If non-core atoms are included, this increases to 1.4 A due to the presence of variability in loops and similar regions of the protein. The observed structural differences are only weakly correlated with the age and quality of the structural model and differences in conditions under which the models were determined. We examine steric clashes when a putative crystalline lattice is constructed using a representative NMR structure, and find that repulsive crystal packing plays a minor role in the observed differences between crystal and NMR structures. The observed structural differences likely have a combination of physical and methodological causes. Stabilizing attractive interactions arising from intermolecular crystal contacts which shift the equilibrium of the crystal structure relative to the NMR structure is a likely physical source which can account for some of the observed differences. Methodological sources of apparent structural difference include insufficient sampling or other issues which could give rise to errors in the estimates of the precision and/or accuracy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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