Understanding protein domain-swapping using structure-based models of protein folding

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2017 Sep:128:113-120. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2016.09.013. Epub 2016 Nov 17.


In domain-swapping, two or more identical protein monomers exchange structural elements and fold into dimers or multimers whose units are structurally similar to the original monomer. Domain-swapping is of biotechnological interest because inhibiting domain-swapping can reduce disease-causing fibrillar protein aggregation. To achieve such inhibition, it is important to understand both the energetics that stabilize the domain-swapped structure and the protein dynamics that enable the swapping. Structure-based models (SBMs) encode the folded structure of the protein in their potential energy functions. SBMs have been successfully used to understand diverse aspects of monomer folding. Symmetrized SBMs model interactions between two identical protein chains using only intra-monomer interactions. Molecular dynamics simulations of such symmetrized SBMs have been used to correctly predict the domain-swapped structure and to understand the mechanism of domain-swapping. Here, we review such models and illustrate that monomer topology determines key aspects of domain-swapping. However, in some proteins, specifics of local energetic interactions modulate domain-swapping and these need to be added to the symmetrized SBMs. We then summarize some general principles of the mechanism of domain-swapping that emerge from the symmetrized SBM simulations. Finally, using our own results, we explore how symmetrized SBMs could be used to design domain-swapping in proteins.

Keywords: Mechanism of domain swapping; Molecular dynamics simulations; Protein topology; Symmetrized structure-based models.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Models, Molecular*
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Folding*
  • Proteins / chemistry*


  • Proteins