A computational method for the design of nested proteins by loop-directed domain insertion

Proteins. 2018 Mar;86(3):354-369. doi: 10.1002/prot.25445. Epub 2018 Jan 24.


The computational design of novel nested proteins-in which the primary structure of one protein domain (insert) is flanked by the primary structure segments of another (parent)-would enable the generation of multifunctional proteins. Here we present a new algorithm, called Loop-Directed Domain Insertion (LooDo), implemented within the Rosetta software suite, for the purpose of designing nested protein domain combinations connected by flexible linker regions. Conformational space for the insert domain is sampled using large libraries of linker fragments for linker-to-parent domain superimposition followed by insert-to-linker superimposition. The relative positioning of the two domains (treated as rigid bodies) is sampled efficiently by a grid-based, mutual placement compatibility search. The conformations of the loop residues, and the identities of loop as well as interface residues, are simultaneously optimized using a generalized kinematic loop closure algorithm and Rosetta EnzymeDesign, respectively, to minimize interface energy. The algorithm was found to consistently sample near-native conformations and interface sequences for a benchmark set of structurally similar but functionally divergent domain-inserted enzymes from the α/β hydrolase superfamily, and discriminates well between native and nonnative conformations and sequences, although loop conformations tended to deviate from the native conformations. Furthermore, in cross-domain placement tests, native insert-parent domain combinations were ranked as the best-scoring structures compared to nonnative domain combinations. This algorithm should be broadly applicable to the design of multi-domain protein complexes with any combination of inserted or tandem domain connections.

Keywords: Rosetta modeling; domain insertion; enzyme design; kinematic loop closure; multi-domain protein; nested protein; protein design; α/β hydrolase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Enzymes / chemistry
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics


  • Enzymes
  • Proteins