Toward computational design of protein crystals with improved resolution
Substantial advances have been made in the computational design of protein interfaces over the last 20 years. However, the interfaces targeted by design have typically been stable and high affinity. Here, we report the development of a generic computational design method to stabilize the weak interactions at crystallographic interfaces. Initially, we analyzed structures reported in the Protein Data Bank (PDB) to determine whether crystals with more stable interfaces result in higher resolution structures. We found that, for twenty-two variants of a single protein crystallized by a single individual, Rosetta score correlates with resolution. We next developed and tested a computational design protocol, seeking to identify point mutations that would improve resolution on a highly stable variant of staphylococcal nuclease (SNase Δ+PHS). Only one of eleven initial designs crystallized, forcing us to re-evaluate our strategy and base our designs on an ensemble of protein backbones. Using this strategy, four of the five designed proteins crystallized. Collecting diffraction data for multiple crystals per design and solving crystal structures, we found that designed crystals improved resolution modestly and in unpredictable ways, including altering crystal space group. Post-hoc, in silico analysis showed that crystal space groups could have been predicted for four of six variants (including WT), but that resolution did not correlate with interface stability, as it did in the preliminary results. Our results show that single point mutations can have significant effects on crystal resolution and space group, and that it is possible to computationally identify such mutations, suggesting a potential design strategy to generate high-resolution protein crystals from poorly diffracting ones.
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