Discovering conformational sub-states relevant to protein function.
BACKGROUND: Internal motions enable proteins to explore a range of conformations, even in the vicinity of native state. The role of conformational fluctuations in the designated function of a protein is widely debated. Emerging evidence suggests that sub-groups within the range of conformations (or sub-states) contain properties that may be functionally relevant. However, low populations in these sub-states and the transient nature of conformational transitions between these sub-states present significant challenges for their identification and characterization.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: To overcome these challenges we have developed a new computational technique, quasi-anharmonic analysis (QAA). QAA utilizes higher-order statistics of protein motions to identify sub-states in the conformational landscape. Further, the focus on anharmonicity allows identification of conformational fluctuations that enable transitions between sub-states. QAA applied to equilibrium simulations of human ubiquitin and T4 lysozyme reveals functionally relevant sub-states and protein motions involved in molecular recognition. In combination with a reaction pathway sampling method, QAA characterizes conformational sub-states associated with cis/trans peptidyl-prolyl isomerization catalyzed by the enzyme cyclophilin A. In these three proteins, QAA allows identification of conformational sub-states, with critical structural and dynamical features relevant to protein function.
CONCLUSIONS: Overall, QAA provides a novel framework to intuitively understand the biophysical basis of conformational diversity and its relevance to protein function.