Determination of side-chain conformations is an important step in protein structure prediction and protein design. Many such methods have been presented, although only a small number are in widespread use. SCWRL is one such method, and the SCWRL3 program (2003) has remained popular because of its speed, accuracy, and ease-of-use for the purpose of homology modeling. However, higher accuracy at comparable speed is desirable. This has been achieved in a new program SCWRL4 through: (1) a new backbone-dependent rotamer library based on kernel density estimates; (2) averaging over samples of conformations about the positions in the rotamer library; (3) a fast anisotropic hydrogen bonding function; (4) a short-range, soft van der Waals atom-atom interaction potential; (5) fast collision detection using k-discrete oriented polytopes; (6) a tree decomposition algorithm to solve the combinatorial problem; and (7) optimization of all parameters by determining the interaction graph within the crystal environment using symmetry operators of the crystallographic space group. Accuracies as a function of electron density of the side chains demonstrate that side chains with higher electron density are easier to predict than those with low-electron density and presumed conformational disorder. For a testing set of 379 proteins, 86% of chi(1) angles and 75% of chi(1+2) angles are predicted correctly within 40 degrees of the X-ray positions. Among side chains with higher electron density (25-100th percentile), these numbers rise to 89 and 80%. The new program maintains its simple command-line interface, designed for homology modeling, and is now available as a dynamic-linked library for incorporation into other software programs.
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.