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Protein Sci. 2010 Jul;19(7):1395-404. doi: 10.1002/pro.420.

New surface contacts formed upon reductive lysine methylation: improving the probability of protein crystallization.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908, USA.


Surface lysine methylation (SLM) is a technique for improving the rate of success of protein crystallization by chemically methylating lysine residues. The exact mechanism by which SLM enhances crystallization is still not clear. To study these mechanisms, and to analyze the conditions where SLM will provide the optimal benefits for rescuing failed crystallization experiments, we compared 40 protein structures containing N,N-dimethyl-lysine (dmLys) to a nonredundant set of 18,972 nonmethylated structures from the PDB. By measuring the relative frequency of intermolecular contacts (where contacts are defined as interactions between the residues in proximity with a distance of 3.5 A or less) of basic residues in the methylated versus nonmethylated sets, dmLys-Glu contacts are seen more frequently than Lys-Glu contacts. Based on observation of the 10 proteins with both native and methylated structures, we propose that the increased rate of contact for dmLys-Glu is due to both a slight increase in the number of amine-carboxyl H-bonds and to the formation of methyl C--H...O interactions. By comparing the relative contact frequencies of dmLys with other residues, the mechanism by which methylation of lysines improves the formation of crystal contacts appears to be similar to that of Lys to Arg mutation. Moreover, analysis of methylated structures with the surface entropy reduction (SER) prediction server suggests that in many cases SLM of predicted SER sites may contribute to improved crystallization. Thus, tools that analyze protein sequences and mark residues for SER mutation may identify proteins with good candidate sites for SLM.

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