As molecular dynamics (MD) simulations continue to evolve into powerful computational tools for studying complex biomolecular systems, the necessity of flexible and easy-to-use software tools for the analysis of these simulations is growing. We have developed MDTraj, a modern, lightweight, and fast software package for analyzing MD simulations. MDTraj reads and writes trajectory data in a wide variety of commonly used formats. It provides a large number of trajectory analysis capabilities including minimal root-mean-square-deviation calculations, secondary structure assignment, and the extraction of common order parameters. The package has a strong focus on interoperability with the wider scientific Python ecosystem, bridging the gap between MD data and the rapidly growing collection of industry-standard statistical analysis and visualization tools in Python. MDTraj is a powerful and user-friendly software package that simplifies the analysis of MD data and connects these datasets with the modern interactive data science software ecosystem in Python.
Molecular dynamics simulations hold the promise of providing an atomic-level description of protein folding that cannot easily be obtained from experiments. Here, we examine the extent to which the molecular mechanics force field used in such simulations might influence the observed folding pathways. To that end, we performed equilibrium simulations of a fast-folding variant of the villin headpiece using four different force fields. In each simulation, we observed a large number of transitions between the unfolded and folded states, and in all four cases, both the rate of folding and the structure of the native state were in good agreement with experiments. We found, however, that the folding mechanism and the properties of the unfolded state depend substantially on the choice of force field. We thus conclude that although it is important to match a single, experimentally determined structure and folding rate, this does not ensure that a given simulation will provide a unique and correct description of the full free-energy surface and the mechanism of folding.
How drugs bind to their receptors—from initial association, through drug entry into the binding pocket, to adoption of the final bound conformation, or "pose"—has remained unknown, even for G-protein-coupled receptor modulators, which constitute one-third of all marketed drugs. We captured this pharmaceutically critical process in atomic detail using the first unbiased molecular dynamics simulations in which drug molecules spontaneously associate with G-protein-coupled receptors to achieve final poses matching those determined crystallographically. We found that several beta blockers and a beta agonist all traverse the same well-defined, dominant pathway as they bind to the β1- and β2-adrenergic receptors, initially making contact with a vestibule on each receptor's extracellular surface. Surprisingly, association with this vestibule, at a distance of 15 Å from the binding pocket, often presents the largest energetic barrier to binding, despite the fact that subsequent entry into the binding pocket requires the receptor to deform and the drug to squeeze through a narrow passage. The early barrier appears to reflect the substantial dehydration that takes place as the drug associates with the vestibule. Our atomic-level description of the binding process suggests opportunities for allosteric modulation and provides a structural foundation for future optimization of drug–receptor binding and unbinding rates.
A major challenge in structural biology is to characterize structures of proteins and their assemblies in solution. At low resolution, such a characterization may be achieved by small angle x-ray scattering (SAXS). Because SAXS analyses often require comparing profiles calculated from many atomic models against those determined by experiment, rapid and accurate profile computation from molecular structures is needed. We developed fast open-source x-ray scattering (FoXS) for profile computation. To match the experimental profile within the experimental noise, FoXS explicitly computes all interatomic distances and implicitly models the first hydration layer of the molecule. For assessing the accuracy of the modeled hydration layer, we performed contrast variation experiments for glucose isomerase and lysozyme, and found that FoXS can accurately represent density changes of this layer. The hydration layer model was also compared with a SAXS profile calculated for the explicit water molecules in the high-resolution structures of glucose isomerase and lysozyme. We tested FoXS on eleven protein, one DNA, and two RNA structures, revealing superior accuracy and speed versus CRYSOL, AquaSAXS, the Zernike polynomials-based method, and Fast-SAXS-pro. In addition, we demonstrated a significant correlation of the SAXS score with the accuracy of a structural model. Moreover, FoXS utility for analyzing heterogeneous samples was demonstrated for intrinsically flexible XLF-XRCC4 filaments and Ligase III-DNA complex. FoXS is extensively used as a standalone web server as a component of integrative structure determination by programs IMP, Chimera, and BILBOMD, as well as in other applications that require rapidly and accurately calculated SAXS profiles.
Here we extend the ability to predict hydrodynamic coefficients and other solution properties of rigid macromolecular structures from atomic-level structures, implemented in the computer program HYDROPRO, to models with lower, residue-level resolution. Whereas in the former case there is one bead per nonhydrogen atom, the latter contains one bead per amino acid (or nucleotide) residue, thus allowing calculations when atomic resolution is not available or coarse-grained models are preferred. We parameterized the effective hydrodynamic radius of the elements in the atomic- and residue-level models using a very large set of experimental data for translational and rotational coefficients (intrinsic viscosity and radius of gyration) for >50 proteins. We also extended the calculations to very large proteins and macromolecular complexes, such as the whole 70S ribosome. We show that with proper parameterization, the two levels of resolution yield similar and rather good agreement with experimental data. The new version of HYDROPRO, in addition to considering various computational and modeling schemes, is far more efficient computationally and can be handled with the use of a graphical interface.
Type IVa pili are filamentous cell surface structures observed in many bacteria. They pull cells forward by extending, adhering to surfaces, and then retracting. We used cryo-electron tomography of intact Myxococcus xanthus cells to visualize type IVa pili and the protein machine that assembles and retracts them (the type IVa pilus machine, or T4PM) in situ, in both the piliated and nonpiliated states, at a resolution of 3 to 4 nanometers. We found that T4PM comprises an outer membrane pore, four interconnected ring structures in the periplasm and cytoplasm, a cytoplasmic disc and dome, and a periplasmic stem. By systematically imaging mutants lacking defined T4PM proteins or with individual proteins fused to tags, we mapped the locations of all 10 T4PM core components and the minor pilins, thereby providing insights into pilus assembly, structure, and function.
Most protein structural prediction algorithms assemble structures as reduced models that represent amino acids by a reduced number of atoms to speed up the conformational search. Building accurate full-atom models from these reduced models is a necessary step toward a detailed function analysis. However, it is difficult to ensure that the atomic models retain the desired global topology while maintaining a sound local atomic geometry because the reduced models often have unphysical local distortions. To address this issue, we developed a new program, called ModRefiner, to construct and refine protein structures from C alpha traces based on a two-step, atomic-level energy minimization. The main-chain structures are first constructed from initial C alpha traces and the side-chain rotamers are then refined together with the backbone atoms with the use of a composite physics- and knowledge-based force field. We tested the method by performing an atomic structure refinement of 261 proteins with the initial models constructed from both ab initio and template-based structure assemblies. Compared with other state-of-art programs, ModRefiner shows improvements in both global and local structures, which have more accurate side-chain positions, better hydrogen-bonding networks, and fewer atomic overlaps. ModRefiner is freely available at http://zhanglab.ccmb.med.umich.edu/ModRefiner.
The CHARMM-GUI Membrane Builder (http://www.charmm-gui.org/input/membrane), an intuitive, straightforward, web-based graphical user interface, was expanded to automate the building process of heterogeneous lipid bilayers, with or without a protein and with support for up to 32 different lipid types. The efficacy of these new features was tested by building and simulating lipid bilayers; that resemble yeast membranes, composed of cholesterol, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, dioleoylphosphatidylcholine, palmitoyloleoylphosphatidylethanolamine, palmitoyloleoylphosphatidylamine, and palmitoyloleoylphosphatidylserine. Four membranes with varying concentrations of cholesterol and phospholipids were simulated, for a total of 170 ns at 303.15 K. Unsaturated phospholipid chain concentration had the largest influence on membrane properties, such as average lipid surface area, density profiles, deuterium order parameters, and cholesterol tilt angle. Simulations with a high concentration of unsaturated chains (73%, membrane(unsat)) resulted in a significant increase in lipid surface area and a decrease in deuterium order parameters, compared with membranes with a high concentration of saturated chains (613-63%, membrane(sat)). The average tilt angle of cholesterol with respect to bilayer normal was largest, and the distribution was significantly broader for membraneunsat. Moreover, short-lived cholesterol orientations parallel to the membrane surface existed only for membrane(unsat). The membrane(sat) simulations were in a liquid-ordered state, and agree with similar experimental cholesterol-containing membranes.
Patients with mammographically dense breast tissue have a greatly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Dense breast tissue contains more stromal collagen, which contributes to increased matrix stiffness and alters normal cellular responses. Stromal collagen within and surrounding mammary tumors is frequently aligned and reoriented perpendicular to the tumor boundary. We have shown that aligned collagen predicts poor outcome in breast cancer patients, and postulate this is because it facilitates invasion by providing tracks on which cells migrate out of the tumor. However, the mechanisms by which alignment may promote migration are not understood. Here, we investigated the contribution of matrix stiffness and alignment to cell migration speed and persistence. Mechanical measurements of the stiffness of collagen matrices with varying density and alignment were compared with the results of a 3D microchannel alignment assay to quantify cell migration. We further interpreted the experimental results using a computational model of cell migration. We find that collagen alignment confers an increase in stiffness, but does not increase the speed of migrating cells. Instead, alignment enhances the efficiency of migration by increasing directional persistence and restricting protrusions along aligned fibers, resulting in a greater distance traveled. These results suggest that matrix topography, rather than stiffness, is the dominant feature by which an aligned matrix can enhance invasion through 3D collagen matrices.
Structured illumination microscopy is a method that can increase the spatial resolution of wide-field fluorescence microscopy beyond its classical limit by using spatially structured illumination light. Here we describe how this method can be applied in three dimensions to double the axial as well as the lateral resolution, with true optical sectioning. A grating is used to generate three mutually coherent light beams, which interfere in the specimen to form an illumination pattern that varies both laterally and axially. The spatially structured excitation intensity causes normally unreachable high-resolution information to become encoded into the observed images through spatial frequency mixing. This new information is computationally extracted and used to generate a three-dimensional reconstruction with twice as high resolution, in all three dimensions, as is possible in a conventional wide-field microscope. The method has been demonstrated on both test objects and biological specimens, and has produced the first light microscopy images of the synaptonemal complex in which the lateral elements are clearly resolved.
We present here the parmbsc0 force field, a refinement of the AMBER parm99 force field, where emphasis has been made on the correct representation of the alpha/gamma concerted rotation in nucleic acids ( NAs). The modified force field corrects overpopulations of the alpha/gamma ( g+, t) backbone that were seen in long ( more than 10 ns) simulations with previous AMBER parameter sets ( parm94-99). The force field has been derived by fitting to high-level quantum mechanical data and verified by comparison with very high-level quantum mechanical calculations and by a very extensive comparison between simulations and experimental data. The set of validation simulations includes two of the longest trajectories published to date for the DNA duplex ( 200 ns each) and the largest variety of NA structures studied to date ( 15 different NA families and 97 individual structures). The total simulation time used to validate the force field includes near 1 mu s of state-of-the-art molecular dynamics simulations in aqueous solution.
We present here the parmbsc0 force field, a refinement of the AMBER parm99 force field, where emphasis has been made on the correct representation of the alpha/gamma concerted rotation in nucleic acids (NAs). The modified force field corrects overpopulations of the alpha/gamma = (g+,t) backbone that were seen in long (more than 10 ns) simulations with previous AMBER parameter sets (parm94-99). The force field has been derived by fitting to high-level quantum mechanical data and verified by comparison with very high-level quantum mechanical calculations and by a very extensive comparison between simulations and experimental data. The set of validation simulations includes two of the longest trajectories published to date for the DNA duplex (200 ns each) and the largest variety of NA structures studied to date (15 different NA families and 97 individual structures). The total simulation time used to validate the force field includes near 1 mus of state-of-the-art molecular dynamics simulations in aqueous solution.
Biological structures span many orders of magnitude in size, but far-field visible light microscopy suffers from limited resolution. A new method for fluorescence imaging has been developed that can obtain spatial distributions of large numbers of fluorescent molecules on length scales shorter than the classical diffraction limit. Fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) analyzes thousands of single fluorophores per acquisition, localizing small numbers of them at a time, at low excitation intensity. To control the number of visible fluorophores in the field of view and ensure that optically active molecules are separated by much more than the width of the point spread function, photoactivatable fluorescent molecules are used, in this case the photoactivatable green fluorescent protein (PA-GFP). For these photoactivatable molecules, the activation rate is controlled by the activation illumination intensity; non fluorescent inactive molecules are activated by a high-frequency (405-nm) laser and are then fluorescent when excited at a lower frequency. The fluorescence is imaged by a CCD camera, and then the molecules are either reversibly inactivated or irreversibly photobleached to remove them from the field of view. The rate of photobleaching is controlled by the intensity of the laser used to excite the fluorescence, in this case an Ar+ ion laser. Because only a small number of molecules are visible at a given time, their positions can be determined precisely; with only similar to 100 detected photons per molecule, the localization precision can be as much as 10-fold better than the resolution, depending on background levels. Heterogeneities on length scales of the order of tens of nanometers are observed by FPALM of PA-GFP on glass. FPALM images are compared with images of the same molecules by wide field fluorescence. FPALM images of PA-GFP on a terraced sapphire crystal surface were compared with atomic force microscopy and show that the full width at half-maximum of features similar to 86 +/- 4 nm is significantly better than the expected diffraction-limited optical resolution. The number of fluorescent molecules and their brightness distribution have also been determined using FPALM. This new method suggests a means to address a significant number of biological questions that had previously been limited by microscope resolution.
Although biochemical signals that modulate stem cell self-renewal and differentiation were extensively studied, only recently were the mechanical properties of a stem cell's microenvironment shown to regulate its behavior. It would be desirable to have independent control over biochemical and mechanical cues, to analyze their relative and combined effects on stem-cell function. We developed a synthetic, interfacial hydrogel culture system, termed variable moduli interpenetrating polymer networks (vmIPNs), to assess the effects of soluble signals, adhesion ligand presentation, and material moduli from 10-10,000 Pa on adult neural stem-cell (aNSC) behavior. The aNSCs proliferated when cultured in serum-free growth media on peptide-modified vmIPNs with moduli of >= 100 Pa. In serum-free neuronal differentiation media, a peak level of the neuronal marker, beta-tubulin III, was observed on vmIPNs of 500 Pa, near the physiological stiffness of brain tissue. Furthermore, under mixed differentiation conditions with serum, softer gels (similar to 100-500 Pa) greatly favored neurons, whereas harder gels (similar to 1,000 10,000 Pa) promoted glial cultures. In contrast, cell spreading, self-renewal, and differentiation were inhibited on substrata with moduli of similar to 10 Pa. This work demonstrates that the mechanical and biochemical properties of an aNSC microenvironment can be tuned to regulate the self-renewal and differentiation of aNSCs.
Bacterial chromosomes are confined in submicrometer-sized nucleoids. Chromosome organization is facilitated by nucleoid-associated proteins (NAPs), but the mechanisms of action remain elusive. In this work, we used super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, in combination with a chromosome-conformation capture assay, to study the distributions of major NAPs in live Escherichia coli cells. Four NAPs—HU, Fis, IHF, and StpA—were largely scattered throughout the nucleoid. In contrast, H-NS, a global transcriptional silencer, formed two compact clusters per chromosome, driven by oligomerization of DNA-bound H-NS through interactions mediated by the amino-terminal domain of the protein. H-NS sequestered the regulated operons into these clusters and juxtaposed numerous DNA segments broadly distributed throughout the chromosome. Deleting H-NS led to substantial chromosome reorganization. These observations demonstrate that H-NS plays a key role in global chromosome organization in bacteria.
Ionotropic glutamate receptors are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate excitatory synaptic transmission in the vertebrate brain. To gain a better understanding of how structural changes gate ion flux across the membrane, we trapped rat AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid) and kainate receptor subtypes in their major functional states and analysed the resulting structures using cryo-electron microscopy. We show that transition to the active state involves a 'corkscrew' motion of the receptor assembly, driven by closure of the ligand-binding domain. Desensitization is accompanied by disruption of the amino-terminal domain tetramer in AMPA, but not kainate, receptors with a two-fold to four-fold symmetry transition in the ligand-binding domains in both subtypes. The 7.6 angstrom structure of a desensitized kainate receptor shows how these changes accommodate channel closing. These findings integrate previous physiological, biochemical and structural analyses of glutamate receptors and provide a molecular explanation for key steps in receptor gating.
The nanopattern on the surface of Clanger cicada (Psaltoda claripennis) wings represents the first example of a new class of biomaterials that can kill bacteria on contact based solely on their physical surface structure. The wings provide a model tor the development of novel functional surfaces that possess an increased resistance to bacterial contamination and infection. We propose a biophysical model of the interactions between bacterial cells and cicada wing surface structures, and show that mechanical properties, in particular cell rigidity, are key factors in determining bacterial resistance/sensitivity to the bactericidal nature of the wing surface. We confirmed this experimentally by decreasing the rigidity of surface-resistant strains through microwave irradiation of the cells, which renders them susceptible to the wing effects. Our findings demonstrate the potential benefits of incorporating cicada wing nanopatterns into the design of antibacterial nanomaterials.
Melittin is a prototype of the ubiquitous antimicrobial peptides that induce pores in membranes. It is commonly used as a molecular device for membrane permeabilization. Even at concentrations in the nanomolar range, melittin can induce transient pores that allow transmembrane conduction of atomic ions but not leakage of glucose or larger molecules. At micromolar concentrations, melittin induces stable pores allowing transmembrane leakage of molecules up to tens of kilodaltons, corresponding to its antimicrobial activities. Despite extensive studies, aspects of the molecular mechanism for pore formation remain unclear. To clarify the mechanism, one must know the states of the melittin-bound membrane before and after the process. By correlating experiments using giant unilamellar vesicles with those of peptide-lipid multilayers, we found that melittin bound on the vesicle translocated and redistributed to both sides of the membrane before the formation of stable pores. Furthermore, stable pores are formed only above a critical peptide-to-lipid ratio. The initial states for transient and stable pores are different, which implies different mechanisms at low and high peptide concentrations. To determine the lipidie structure of the pore, the pores in peptide-lipid multilayers were induced to form a lattice and examined by anomalous X-ray diffraction. The electron density distribution of lipid labels shows that the pore is formed by merging of two interfaces through a hole. The molecular property of melittin is such that it adsorbs strongly to the bilayer interface. Pore formation can be viewed as the bilayer adopting a lipid configuration to accommodate its excessive interfacial area.
Transcription of highly expressed genes has been shown to occur in stochastic bursts. But the origin of such ubiquitous phenomenon has not been understood. Here, we present the mechanism in bacteria. We developed a high-throughput, in vitro, single-molecule assay to follow transcription on individual DNA templates in real time. We showed that positive supercoiling buildup on a DNA segment by transcription slows down transcription elongation and eventually stops transcription initiation. Transcription can be resumed upon gyrase binding to the DNA segment. Furthermore, using single-cell mRNA counting fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), we found that duty cycles of transcriptional bursting depend on the intracellular gyrase concentration. Together, these findings prove that transcriptional bursting of highly expressed genes in bacteria is primarily caused by reversible gyrase dissociation from and rebinding to a DNA segment, changing the supercoiling level of the segment.
Channelrhodopsin 2 (ChR2), a light-activated nonselective cationic channel from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, has become a useful tool to excite neurons into which it is transfected. The other ChR from Chlamydomonas, ChR1, has attracted less attention because of its proton-selective permeability. By making chimeras of the transmembrane domains of ChR1 and ChR2, combined with site-directed mutagenesis, we developed a ChR variant, named ChEF, that exhibits significantly less inactivation during persistent light stimulation. ChEF undergoes only 33% inactivation, compared with 77% for ChR2. Point mutation of Ile(170) of ChEF to Val (yielding "ChIEF") accelerates the rate of channel closure while retaining reduced inactivation, leading to more consistent responses when stimulated above 25 Hz in both HEK293 cells and cultured hippocampal neurons. In addition, these variants have altered spectral responses, light sensitivity, and channel selectivity. ChEF and ChIEF allow more precise temporal control of depolarization, and can induce action potential trains that more closely resemble natural spiking patterns.