Observing the overall rocking motion of a protein in a crystal

Nat Commun. 2015 Oct 5;6:8361. doi: 10.1038/ncomms9361.


The large majority of three-dimensional structures of biological macromolecules have been determined by X-ray diffraction of crystalline samples. High-resolution structure determination crucially depends on the homogeneity of the protein crystal. Overall 'rocking' motion of molecules in the crystal is expected to influence diffraction quality, and such motion may therefore affect the process of solving crystal structures. Yet, so far overall molecular motion has not directly been observed in protein crystals, and the timescale of such dynamics remains unclear. Here we use solid-state NMR, X-ray diffraction methods and μs-long molecular dynamics simulations to directly characterize the rigid-body motion of a protein in different crystal forms. For ubiquitin crystals investigated in this study we determine the range of possible correlation times of rocking motion, 0.1-100 μs. The amplitude of rocking varies from one crystal form to another and is correlated with the resolution obtainable in X-ray diffraction experiments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Crystallization*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Motion*
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular
  • Polyethylene Glycols*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Ubiquitin / chemistry
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*


  • Ubiquitin
  • Polyethylene Glycols

Associated data

  • PDB/4XOF
  • PDB/4XOK
  • PDB/4XOL