Research Highlights

In silico identification of rescue sites by double force scanning
DFShigh

A deleterious amino acid change in a protein can be compensated by a second-site rescue mutation. These compensatory mechanisms can be mimicked by drugs. In particular, the location of rescue mutations can be used to identify protein regions that can be targeted by small molecules to reactivate a damaged mutant. We present the first general computational method to detect rescue sites. By mimicking the effect of mutations through the application of forces, the Double Force Scanning (DFS) method identifies the second-site residues that make the protein structure most resilient to the effect of pathogenic mutations. We tested DFS predictions against two datasets containing experimentally validated and putative evolutionary-related rescue sites. A remarkably good agreement was found between predictions and experimental data. Indeed, almost half of the rescue sites in p53 was correctly predicted by DFS, with 65% of remaining sites in contact with DFS predictions. Similar results were found for other proteins in the evolutionary dataset. The DFS code is available under GPL at https://fornililab.github.io/dfs/. 10.1093/bioinformatics/btx515

Using Local States To Drive the Sampling of Global Conformations in Proteins
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Conformational changes associated with protein function often occur beyond the time scale currently accessible to unbiased molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, so that different approaches have been developed to accelerate their sampling. Here we investigate how the knowledge of backbone conformations preferentially adopted by protein fragments, as contained in precalculated libraries known as structural alphabets (SA), can be used to explore the landscape of protein conformations in MD simulations. To this aim, we introduced a new SA-based collective variable, CVSA, to be used with enhanced sampling methods. We find that (a) enhancing the sampling of native local states in both metadynamics and steered MD simulations allows the recovery of global folded states in small proteins; (b) folded states can still be recovered when the amount of information on the native local states is reduced by using a low-resolution version of the SA, where states are clustered into macrostates; and (c) sequences of SA states derived from collections of structural motifs can be used to sample alternative conformations of preselected protein regions. The present findings have potential impact on several applications, ranging from protein model refinement to protein folding and design. 10.1021/acs.jctc.5b00992

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