The recent determination of crystal structures for several important membrane proteins opens the way for comparative modeling of their membrane-spanning regions. However, the ability to predict correctly the structures of loop regions, which may be critical, for example, in ligand binding, remains a considerable challenge. To meet this challenge, accurate scoring methods have to discriminate between candidate conformations of an unknown loop structure. Some success in loop prediction has been reported for globular proteins; however, the proximity of membrane protein loops to the lipid bilayer casts doubt on the applicability of the same scoring methods to this problem. In this work, we develop "decoy libraries" of non-native folds generated, using the structures of two membrane proteins, with molecular dynamics and Monte Carlo techniques over a range of temperatures. We introduce a new approach for decoy library generation by constructing a flat distribution of conformations covering a wide range of Calpha-root-mean-square deviation (RMSD) from the native structure; this removes possible bias in subsequent scoring stages. We then score these decoy conformations with effective energy functions, using increasingly more cpu-intensive implicit solvent models, including (1) simple Coulombic electrostatics with constant or distance-dependent dielectrics; (2) atomic solvation parameters; (3) the effective energy function (EEF1) of Lazaridis and Karplus; (4) generalized Born/Analytical Continuum Solvent; and (5) finite-difference Poisson-Boltzmann energy functions. We show that distinction of native-like membrane protein loops may be achieved using effective energies with the assumption of a homogenous environment; thus, the absence of the adjacent lipid bilayer does not affect the scoring ability. In particular, the Analytical Continuum Solvent and finite-difference Poisson-Boltzmann energy functions are seen to be the most powerful scoring functions. Interestingly, the use of the uncharged states of ionizable sidechains is shown to aid prediction, particularly for the simplest energy functions.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.