Protein Structure Prediction and Design in a Biologically Realistic Implicit Membrane

Biophys J. 2020 Apr 21;118(8):2042-2055. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2020.03.006. Epub 2020 Mar 14.

Abstract

Protein design is a powerful tool for elucidating mechanisms of function and engineering new therapeutics and nanotechnologies. Although soluble protein design has advanced, membrane protein design remains challenging because of difficulties in modeling the lipid bilayer. In this work, we developed an implicit approach that captures the anisotropic structure, shape of water-filled pores, and nanoscale dimensions of membranes with different lipid compositions. The model improves performance in computational benchmarks against experimental targets, including prediction of protein orientations in the bilayer, ΔΔG calculations, native structure discrimination, and native sequence recovery. When applied to de novo protein design, this approach designs sequences with an amino acid distribution near the native amino acid distribution in membrane proteins, overcoming a critical flaw in previous membrane models that were prone to generating leucine-rich designs. Furthermore, the proteins designed in the new membrane model exhibit native-like features including interfacial aromatic side chains, hydrophobic lengths compatible with bilayer thickness, and polar pores. Our method advances high-resolution membrane protein structure prediction and design toward tackling key biological questions and engineering challenges.