A significant number of macromolecular structures solved by electron cryo-microscopy and X-ray crystallography obtain resolutions of 3.5-6Å, at which direct atomistic interpretation is difficult. To address this, we developed pathwalking, a semi-automated protocol to enumerate reasonable Cα models from near-atomic resolution density maps without a structural template or sequence-structure correspondence. Pathwalking uses an approach derived from the Traveling Salesman Problem to rapidly generate an ensemble of initial models for individual proteins, which can later be optimized to produce full atomic models. Pathwalking can also be used to validate and identify potential structural ambiguities in models generated from near-atomic resolution density maps. In this work, examples from the EMDB and PDB are used to assess the broad applicability and accuracy of our method. With the growing number of near-atomic resolution density maps from cryo-EM and X-ray crystallography, pathwalking can become an important tool in modeling protein structures.
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