Iterative assembly of helical proteins by optimal hydrophobic packing.

Research paper by G Albert GA Wu, Evangelos A EA Coutsias, Ken A KA Dill

Indexed on: 07 Aug '08Published on: 07 Aug '08Published in: Structure


We present a method for the computer-based iterative assembly of native-like tertiary structures of helical proteins from alpha-helical fragments. For any pair of helices, our method, called MATCHSTIX, first generates an ensemble of possible relative orientations of the helices with various ways to form hydrophobic contacts between them. Those conformations having steric clashes, or a large radius of gyration of hydrophobic residues, or with helices too far separated to be connected by the intervening linking region, are discarded. Then, we attempt to connect the two helical fragments by using a robotics-based loop-closure algorithm. When loop closure is feasible, the algorithm generates an ensemble of viable interconnecting loops. After energy minimization and clustering, we use a representative set of conformations for further assembly with the remaining helices, adding one helix at a time. To efficiently sample the conformational space, the order of assembly generally proceeds from the pair of helices connected by the shortest loop, followed by joining one of its adjacent helices, always proceeding with the shorter connecting loop. We tested MATCHSTIX on 28 helical proteins each containing up to 5 helices and found it to heavily sample native-like conformations. The average rmsd of the best conformations for the 17 helix-bundle proteins that have 2 or 3 helices is less than 2 A; errors increase somewhat for proteins containing more helices. Native-like states are even more densely sampled when disulfide bonds are known and imposed as restraints. We conclude that, at least for helical proteins, if the secondary structures are known, this rapid rigid-body maximization of hydrophobic interactions can lead to small ensembles of highly native-like structures. It may be useful for protein structure prediction.