Accurate SAXS profile computation and its assessment by contrast variation experiments

Biophys J. 2013 Aug 20;105(4):962-74. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2013.07.020.


A major challenge in structural biology is to characterize structures of proteins and their assemblies in solution. At low resolution, such a characterization may be achieved by small angle x-ray scattering (SAXS). Because SAXS analyses often require comparing profiles calculated from many atomic models against those determined by experiment, rapid and accurate profile computation from molecular structures is needed. We developed fast open-source x-ray scattering (FoXS) for profile computation. To match the experimental profile within the experimental noise, FoXS explicitly computes all interatomic distances and implicitly models the first hydration layer of the molecule. For assessing the accuracy of the modeled hydration layer, we performed contrast variation experiments for glucose isomerase and lysozyme, and found that FoXS can accurately represent density changes of this layer. The hydration layer model was also compared with a SAXS profile calculated for the explicit water molecules in the high-resolution structures of glucose isomerase and lysozyme. We tested FoXS on eleven protein, one DNA, and two RNA structures, revealing superior accuracy and speed versus CRYSOL, AquaSAXS, the Zernike polynomials-based method, and Fast-SAXS-pro. In addition, we demonstrated a significant correlation of the SAXS score with the accuracy of a structural model. Moreover, FoXS utility for analyzing heterogeneous samples was demonstrated for intrinsically flexible XLF-XRCC4 filaments and Ligase III-DNA complex. FoXS is extensively used as a standalone web server as a component of integrative structure determination by programs IMP, Chimera, and BILBOMD, as well as in other applications that require rapidly and accurately calculated SAXS profiles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Scattering, Small Angle*
  • Software*
  • Time Factors
  • Water / chemistry
  • X-Ray Diffraction / methods*


  • Proteins
  • Water