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Combining optimal control theory and molecular dynamics for protein folding.
A new method to develop low-energy folding routes for proteins is presented. The novel aspect of the proposed approach is the synergistic use of optimal control theory with Molecular Dynamics (MD). In the first step of the method, optimal control theory is employed to compute the force field and the optimal folding trajectory for the C? atoms of a Coarse-Grained (CG) protein model. The solution of this CG optimization provides an harmonic approximation of the true potential energy surface around the native state. In the next step CG optimization guides the MD simulation by specifying the optimal target positions for the C? atoms. In turn, MD simulation provides an all-atom conformation whose C? positions match closely the reference target positions determined by CG optimization. This is accomplished by Targeted Molecular Dynamics (TMD) which uses a bias potential or harmonic restraint in addition to the usual MD potential. Folding is a dynamical process and as such residues make different contacts during the course of folding. Therefore CG optimization has to be reinitialized and repeated over time to accomodate these important changes. At each sampled folding time, the active contacts among the residues are recalculated based on the all-atom conformation obtained from MD. Using the new set of contacts, the CG potential is updated and the CG optimal trajectory for the C? atoms is recomputed. This is followed by MD. Implementation of this repetitive CG optimization-MD simulation cycle generates the folding trajectory. Simulations on a model protein Villin demonstrate the utility of the method. Since the method is founded on the general tools of optimal control theory and MD without any restrictions, it is widely applicable to other systems. It can be easily implemented with available MD software packages.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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Thermodynamics of Membrane Protein Folding Measured by Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Authors: Diana E. Schlamadinger, Judy E. Kim.
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD.
Membrane protein folding is an emerging topic with both fundamental and health-related significance. The abundance of membrane proteins in cells underlies the need for comprehensive study of the folding of this ubiquitous family of proteins. Additionally, advances in our ability to characterize diseases associated with misfolded proteins have motivated significant experimental and theoretical efforts in the field of protein folding. Rapid progress in this important field is unfortunately hindered by the inherent challenges associated with membrane proteins and the complexity of the folding mechanism. Here, we outline an experimental procedure for measuring the thermodynamic property of the Gibbs free energy of unfolding in the absence of denaturant, ΔH2O, for a representative integral membrane protein from E. coli. This protocol focuses on the application of fluorescence spectroscopy to determine equilibrium populations of folded and unfolded states as a function of denaturant concentration. Experimental considerations for the preparation of synthetic lipid vesicles as well as key steps in the data analysis procedure are highlighted. This technique is versatile and may be pursued with different types of denaturant, including temperature and pH, as well as in various folding environments of lipids and micelles. The current protocol is one that can be generalized to any membrane or soluble protein that meets the set of criteria discussed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 50, tryptophan, peptides, Gibbs free energy, protein stability, vesicles
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Dorsal Column Steerability with Dual Parallel Leads using Dedicated Power Sources: A Computational Model
Authors: Dongchul Lee, Ewan Gillespie, Kerry Bradley.
Institutions: Neuromodulation.
In spinal cord stimulation (SCS), concordance of stimulation-induced paresthesia over painful body regions is a necessary condition for therapeutic efficacy. Since patient pain patterns can be unique, a common stimulation configuration is the placement of two leads in parallel in the dorsal epidural space. This construct provides flexibility in steering stimulation current mediolaterally over the dorsal column to achieve better pain-paresthesia overlap. Using a mathematical model with an accurate fiber diameter distribution, we studied the ability of dual parallel leads to steer stimulation between adjacent contacts on dual parallel leads using (1) a single source system, and (2) a multi-source system, with a dedicated current source for each contact. The volume conductor model of a low-thoracic spinal cord with epidurally-positioned dual parallel (2 mm separation) percutaneous leads was first created, and the electric field was calculated using ANSYS, a finite element modeling tool. The activating function for 10 um fibers was computed as the second difference of the extracellular potential along the nodes of Ranvier on the nerve fibers in the dorsal column. The volume of activation (VOA) and the central point of the VOA were computed using a predetermined threshold of the activating function. The model compared the field steering results with single source versus dedicated power source systems on dual 8-contact stimulation leads. The model predicted that the multi-source system can target more central points of stimulation on the dorsal column than a single source system (100 vs. 3) and the mean steering step for mediolateral steering is 0.02 mm for multi-source systems vs 1 mm for single source systems, a 50-fold improvement. The ability to center stimulation regions in the dorsal column with high resolution may allow for better optimization of paresthesia-pain overlap in patients.
Medicine, Issue 48, spinal cord stimulation, dorsal columns, current steering, field steering
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Using SecM Arrest Sequence as a Tool to Isolate Ribosome Bound Polypeptides
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
Extensive research has provided ample evidences suggesting that protein folding in the cell is a co-translational process1-5. However, the exact pathway that polypeptide chain follows during co-translational folding to achieve its functional form is still an enigma. In order to understand this process and to determine the exact conformation of the co-translational folding intermediates, it is essential to develop techniques that allow the isolation of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes to allow their further structural analysis. SecM (secretion monitor) is a 170 amino acid E. coli protein that regulates expression of the downstream SecA (secretion driving) ATPase in the secM-secA operon6. Nakatogawa and Ito originally found that a 17 amino acid long sequence (150-FSTPVWISQAQGIRAGP-166) in the C-terminal region of the SecM protein is sufficient and necessary to cause stalling of SecM elongation at Gly165, thereby producing peptidyl-glycyl-tRNA stably bound to the ribosomal P-site7-9. More importantly, it was found that this 17 amino acid long sequence can be fused to the C-terminus of virtually any full-length and/or truncated protein thus allowing the production of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes7. Thus, when fused or inserted into the target protein, SecM stalling sequence produces arrest of the polypeptide chain elongation and generates stable RNCs both in vivo in E. coli cells and in vitro in a cell-free system. Sucrose gradient centrifugation is further utilized to isolate RNCs. The isolated RNCs can be used to analyze structural and functional features of the co-translational folding intermediates. Recently, this technique has been successfully used to gain insights into the structure of several ribosome bound nascent chains10,11. Here we describe the isolation of bovine Gamma-B Crystallin RNCs fused to SecM and generated in an in vitro translation system.
Molecular Biology, Issue 64, Ribosome, nascent polypeptides, co-translational protein folding, translational arrest, in vitro translation
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RNA Secondary Structure Prediction Using High-throughput SHAPE
Authors: Sabrina Lusvarghi, Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, Katarzyna J. Purzycka, Jason W. Rausch, Stuart F.J. Le Grice.
Institutions: Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Understanding the function of RNA involved in biological processes requires a thorough knowledge of RNA structure. Toward this end, the methodology dubbed "high-throughput selective 2' hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension", or SHAPE, allows prediction of RNA secondary structure with single nucleotide resolution. This approach utilizes chemical probing agents that preferentially acylate single stranded or flexible regions of RNA in aqueous solution. Sites of chemical modification are detected by reverse transcription of the modified RNA, and the products of this reaction are fractionated by automated capillary electrophoresis (CE). Since reverse transcriptase pauses at those RNA nucleotides modified by the SHAPE reagents, the resulting cDNA library indirectly maps those ribonucleotides that are single stranded in the context of the folded RNA. Using ShapeFinder software, the electropherograms produced by automated CE are processed and converted into nucleotide reactivity tables that are themselves converted into pseudo-energy constraints used in the RNAStructure (v5.3) prediction algorithm. The two-dimensional RNA structures obtained by combining SHAPE probing with in silico RNA secondary structure prediction have been found to be far more accurate than structures obtained using either method alone.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Virology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nucleic Acid Probes, RNA Probes, RNA, High-throughput SHAPE, Capillary electrophoresis, RNA structure, RNA probing, RNA folding, secondary structure, DNA, nucleic acids, electropherogram, synthesis, transcription, high throughput, sequencing
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Authors: Alberto Natali, Laura M. Roy, Roberta Croce.
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g., pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g., protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro currently used in our laboratory, and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
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Microfluidic Mixers for Studying Protein Folding
Authors: Steven A. Waldauer, Ling Wu, Shuhuai Yao, Olgica Bakajin, Lisa J. Lapidus.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of California, Davis .
The process by which a protein folds into its native conformation is highly relevant to biology and human health yet still poorly understood. One reason for this is that folding takes place over a wide range of timescales, from nanoseconds to seconds or longer, depending on the protein1. Conventional stopped-flow mixers have allowed measurement of folding kinetics starting at about 1 ms. We have recently developed a microfluidic mixer that dilutes denaturant ~100-fold in ~8 μs2. Unlike a stopped-flow mixer, this mixer operates in the laminar flow regime in which turbulence does not occur. The absence of turbulence allows precise numeric simulation of all flows within the mixer with excellent agreement to experiment3-4. Laminar flow is achieved for Reynolds numbers Re ≤100. For aqueous solutions, this requires micron scale geometries. We use a hard substrate, such as silicon or fused silica, to make channels 5-10 μm wide and 10 μm deep (See Figure 1). The smallest dimensions, at the entrance to the mixing region, are on the order of 1 μm in size. The chip is sealed with a thin glass or fused silica coverslip for optical access. Typical total linear flow rates are ~1 m/s, yielding Re~10, but the protein consumption is only ~0.5 nL/s or 1.8 μL/hr. Protein concentration depends on the detection method: For tryptophan fluorescence the typical concentration is 100 μM (for 1 Trp/protein) and for FRET the typical concentration is ~100 nM. The folding process is initiated by rapid dilution of denaturant from 6 M to 0.06 M guanidine hydrochloride. The protein in high denaturant flows down a central channel and is met on either side at the mixing region by buffer without denaturant moving ~100 times faster (see Figure 2). This geometry causes rapid constriction of the protein flow into a narrow jet ~100 nm wide. Diffusion of the light denaturant molecules is very rapid, while diffusion of the heavy protein molecules is much slower, diffusing less than 1 μm in 1 ms. The difference in diffusion constant of the denaturant and the protein results in rapid dilution of the denaturant from the protein stream, reducing the effective concentration of the denaturant around the protein. The protein jet flows at a constant rate down the observation channel and fluorescence of the protein during folding can be observed using a scanning confocal microscope5.
Bioengineering, Issue 62, microfluidic mixing, laminar flow, protein folding, fluorescence, FRET
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Authors: Kwyn A. Meagher, Benjamin N. Doblack, Mercedes Ramirez, Lilian P. Davila.
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications.  For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately.  To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models.  To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models.  This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented.  The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix.  With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions.  The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures.  This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models.  Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created.  An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material.  In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures.  One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
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Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Authors: William Stephenson, Gorby Wan, Scott A. Tenenbaum, Pan T. X. Li.
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
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Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Authors: Ido Karady, Anna Frumkin, Shiran Dror, Netta Shemesh, Nadav Shai, Anat Ben-Zvi.
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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Structure and Coordination Determination of Peptide-metal Complexes Using 1D and 2D 1H NMR
Authors: Michal S. Shoshan, Edit Y. Tshuva, Deborah E. Shalev.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copper (I) binding by metallochaperone transport proteins prevents copper oxidation and release of the toxic ions that may participate in harmful redox reactions. The Cu (I) complex of the peptide model of a Cu (I) binding metallochaperone protein, which includes the sequence MTCSGCSRPG (underlined is conserved), was determined in solution under inert conditions by NMR spectroscopy. NMR is a widely accepted technique for the determination of solution structures of proteins and peptides. Due to difficulty in crystallization to provide single crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, the NMR technique is extremely valuable, especially as it provides information on the solution state rather than the solid state. Herein we describe all steps that are required for full three-dimensional structure determinations by NMR. The protocol includes sample preparation in an NMR tube, 1D and 2D data collection and processing, peak assignment and integration, molecular mechanics calculations, and structure analysis. Importantly, the analysis was first conducted without any preset metal-ligand bonds, to assure a reliable structure determination in an unbiased manner.
Chemistry, Issue 82, solution structure determination, NMR, peptide models, copper-binding proteins, copper complexes
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ALS - Motor Neuron Disease: Mechanism and Development of New Therapies
Authors: Jeffrey D. Rothstein.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Medicine, Issue 6, Translational Research, Neuroscience, ALS, stem cells, brain, neuron, upper motor neuron, transplantation
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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