Molstack-Interactive visualization tool for presentation, interpretation, and validation of macromolecules and electron density maps

Protein Sci. 2018 Jan;27(1):86-94. doi: 10.1002/pro.3272. Epub 2017 Sep 13.


Our understanding of the world of biomolecular structures is based upon the interpretation of macromolecular models, of which ∼90% are an interpretation of electron density maps. This structural information guides scientific progress and exploration in many biomedical disciplines. The Protein Data Bank's web portals have made these structures available for mass scientific consumption and greatly broaden the scope of information presented in scientific publications. The portals provide numerous quality metrics; however, the portion of the structure that is most vital for interpretation of the function may have the most difficult to interpret electron density and this ambiguity is not reflected by any single metric. The possible consequences of basing research on suboptimal models make it imperative to inspect the agreement of a model with its experimental evidence. Molstack, a web-based interactive publishing platform for structural data, allows users to present density maps and structural models by displaying a collection of maps and models, including different interpretation of one's own data, re-refinements, and corrections of existing structures. Molstack organizes the sharing and dissemination of these structural models along with their experimental evidence as an interactive session. Molstack was designed with three groups of users in mind; researchers can present the evidence of their interpretation, reviewers and readers can independently judge the experimental evidence of the authors' conclusions, and other researchers can present or even publish their new hypotheses in the context of prior results. The server is available at

Keywords: electron density interpretation; macromolecular crystallography; reproducibility; structural biology; web server.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Protein*
  • Internet*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • User-Computer Interface*


  • Proteins