Protein engineering remains an area of growing importance in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research. Stabilization of a folded protein conformation is a frequent goal in projects that deal with affinity optimization, enzyme design, protein construct design, and reducing the size of functional proteins. Indeed, it can be desirable to assess and improve protein stability in order to avoid liabilities such as aggregation, degradation, and immunogenic response that may arise during development. One way to stabilize a protein is through the introduction of disulfide bonds. Here, we describe a method to predict pairs of protein residues that can be mutated to form a disulfide bond. We combine a physics-based approach that incorporates implicit solvent molecular mechanics with a knowledge-based approach. We first assign relative weights to the terms that comprise our scoring function using a genetic algorithm applied to a set of 75 wild-type structures that each contains a disulfide bond. The method is then tested on a separate set of 13 engineered proteins comprising 15 artificial stabilizing disulfides introduced via site-directed mutagenesis. We find that the native disulfide in the wild-type proteins is scored well, on average (within the top 6% of the reasonable pairs of residues that could form a disulfide bond) while 6 out of the 15 artificial stabilizing disulfides scored within the top 13% of ranked predictions. Overall, this suggests that the physics-based approach presented here can be useful for triaging possible pairs of mutations for disulfide bond formation to improve protein stability.
Keywords: cysteine mutation; cysteine scanning; disulfide prediction; enzyme design; protein engineering.
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