Backrub-like backbone simulation recapitulates natural protein conformational variability and improves mutant side-chain prediction

J Mol Biol. 2008 Jul 18;380(4):742-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.05.023. Epub 2008 May 17.


Incorporation of effective backbone sampling into protein simulation and design is an important step in increasing the accuracy of computational protein modeling. Recent analysis of high-resolution crystal structures has suggested a new model, termed backrub, to describe localized, hinge-like alternative backbone and side-chain conformations observed in the crystal lattice. The model involves internal backbone rotations about axes between C-alpha atoms. Based on this observation, we have implemented a backrub-inspired sampling method in the Rosetta structure prediction and design program. We evaluate this model of backbone flexibility using three different tests. First, we show that Rosetta backrub simulations recapitulate the correlation between backbone and side-chain conformations in the high-resolution crystal structures upon which the model was based. As a second test of backrub sampling, we show that backbone flexibility improves the accuracy of predicting point-mutant side-chain conformations over fixed backbone rotameric sampling alone. Finally, we show that backrub sampling of triosephosphate isomerase loop 6 can capture the millisecond/microsecond oscillation between the open and closed states observed in solution. Our results suggest that backrub sampling captures a sizable fraction of localized conformational changes that occur in natural proteins. Application of this simple model of backbone motions may significantly improve both protein design and atomistic simulations of localized protein flexibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Point Mutation
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Proteins* / chemistry
  • Proteins* / genetics
  • Thermodynamics


  • Proteins