Alice Qinhua Zhou

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States

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Publications (12)19.21 Total impact

  • Alice Qinhua Zhou, Corey S O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: The side-chain dihedral angle distributions of all amino acids have been measured from myriad high-resolution protein crystal structures. However, we do not yet know the dominant interactions that determine these distributions. Here, we explore to what extent the defining features of the side-chain dihedral angle distributions of different amino acids can be captured by a simple physical model. We find that a hard-sphere model for a dipeptide mimetic that includes only steric interactions plus stereochemical constraints is able to recapitulate the key features of the back-bone dependent observed amino acid side-chain dihedral angle distributions of Ser, Cys, Thr, Val, Ile, Leu, Phe, Tyr, and Trp. We find that for certain amino acids, performing the calculations with the amino acid of interest in the central position of a short α-helical segment improves the match between the predicted and observed distributions. We also identify the atomic interactions that give rise to the differences between the predicted distributions for the hard-sphere model of the dipeptide and that of the α-helical segment. Finally, we point out a case where the hard-sphere plus stereochemical constraint model is insufficient to recapitulate the observed side-chain dihedral angle distribution - namely the distribution P(χ3 ) for Met. © Proteins 2014;. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Proteins. 06/2014;
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    ABSTRACT: A fundamental question in protein science is what is the intrinsic propensity for an amino acid to be in an α-helix, β-sheet, or other backbone dihedral angle (Ф-ψ) conformation. This question has been been hotly debated for many years because including all protein crystal structures from the protein database increases the probabilities for α-helical structures, while experiments on small peptides observe that β-sheet-like conformations predominate. We perform molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of a hard-sphere model for Ala dipeptide mimetics that includes steric interactions between non-bonded atoms and bond length and angle constraints with the goal of evaluating the role of steric interactions in determining protein backbone conformational preferences. We find four key results. For the hard-sphere MD simulations, we show that 1) β-sheet structures are roughly three and half times more probable than α-helical structures, 2) transitions between α-helix and β-sheet structures only occur when the backbone bond angle τ (N-Cα-C) is greater than 110°, and 3) the probability distribution of τ for Ala conformations in the ‘bridge’ region of Φ-ϕ space is shifted to larger angles compared to other regions. In contrast, 4) the distributions obtained from Amber and CHARMM MD simulations in the bridge regions are broader and have increased τ compared to those for hard sphere simulations and from high-resolution protein crystal structures. Our results emphasize the importance of hard-sphere interactions and local stereochemical constraints that yield strong correlations between Φ-ϕ conformations and τ.
    Protein Science 04/2014; · 2.74 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To successfully design new proteins and understand the effects of mutations in natural proteins, we must understand the geometric and physicochemical principles underlying protein structure. The side chains of amino acids in peptides and proteins adopt specific dihedral angle combinations; however, we still do not have a fundamental quantitative understanding of why some side-chain dihedral angle combinations are highly populated and others are not. Here we employ a hard-sphere plus stereochemical constraint model of dipeptide mimetics to enumerate the side-chain dihedral angles of leucine (Leu) and isoleucine (Ile), and identify those conformations that are sterically allowed versus those that are not as a function of the backbone dihedral angles ϕ and ψ. We compare our results with the observed distributions of side-chain dihedral angles in proteins of known structure. With the hard-sphere plus stereochemical constraint model, we obtain agreement between the model predictions and the observed side-chain dihedral angle distributions for Leu and Ile. These results quantify the extent to which local, geometrical constraints determine protein side-chain conformations.
    Biophysical Journal 11/2013; 105(10):2403-2411. · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Molecular recognition and protein-protein interactions are involved in important biological processes. However, despite recent improvements in computational methods for protein design, we still lack a predictive understanding of protein structure and interactions. To begin to address these shortcomings, we performed molecular dynamics simulations of hydrophobic residues modeled as hard spheres with stereo-chemical constraints initially at high temperature, and then quenched to low temperature to obtain local energy minima. We find that there is a range of quench rates over which the probabilities of side-chain dihedral angles for hydrophobic residues match the probabilities obtained for known protein structures. In addition, we predict the side-chain dihedral angle propensities in the core region of the proteins T4, ROP, and several mutants. These studies serve as a first step in developing the ability to quantitatively rank the energies of designed protein constructs. The success of these studies suggests that only hard-sphere dynamics with geometrical constraints are needed for accurate protein structure prediction in hydrophobic cavities and binding interfaces.
    03/2013;
  • Alice Qinhua Zhou, Corey O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: We seek to dramatically improve computational protein design using minimal models that include only the dominant physical interactions. By modeling proteins with hard-sphere interactions and stereochemical constraints, we are able to explain the side-chain dihedral angle distributions for Leu, Ile, and other hydrophobic residues that are observed in protein crystal structures. We also consider inter-residue interactions on the distribution of side-chain dihedral angles for residues in the hydrophobic core of T4 lysozyme. We calculate the energetic and entropic contributions to the free energy differences between wildtype T4 lysozyme and several mutants involving Leu to Ala substitutions. We find a strong correlation between the entropy difference and the decrease in the melting temperature of the mutatants. These results emphasize that considering both entropy and enthalpy is crucial for obtaining a quantitative understanding of protein stability.
    03/2013;
  • Biophysical Journal 01/2013; 104(2):397-. · 3.67 Impact Factor
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    Alice Qinhua Zhou, Corey S O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: The energy functions used to predict protein structures typically include both molecular-mechanics and knowledge-based terms. In contrast, our approach is to develop robust physics- and geometry-based methods. Here, we investigate to what extent simple hard-sphere models can be used to predict side-chain conformations. The distributions of the side-chain dihedral angle χ(1) of Val and Thr in proteins of known structure show distinctive features: Val side chains predominantly adopt χ(1) = 180°, whereas Thr side chains typically adopt χ(1) = 60° and 300° (i.e., χ(1) = ±60° or g- and g(+) configurations). Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain these differences, including interresidue steric clashes and hydrogen-bonding interactions. In contrast, we show that the observed side-chain dihedral angle distributions for both Val and Thr can be explained using only local steric interactions in a dipeptide mimetic. Our results emphasize the power of simple physical approaches and their importance for future advances in protein engineering and design.
    Biophysical Journal 05/2012; 102(10):2345-52. · 3.67 Impact Factor
  • Alice Zhou, Corey O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: With the long-term goal to improve the design of protein-protein interactions, we develop a simple hard sphere model for dipeptides that can predict the side-chain dihedral angle distributions of Val and Thr in both the α-helix and β-sheet backbone conformations. We find that it is essential to include the non-polar hydrogens in the model; indeed interatomic clashes involving the non-polar hydrogens largely determine the form of side-chain dihedral angle distributions. Further, we are able to explain key differences in the side-chain dihedral angle distributions for Val and Thr from intra-residue steric clashes rather than inter-residue steric clashes or hydrogen bonding. These results are the crucial first step in developing computational models that can predict the side chain conformations of residues at protein-peptide interfaces.
    02/2012;
  • Alice Qinhua Zhou, Corey S O'Hern, Lynne Regan
    Protein Science 08/2011; · 2.74 Impact Factor
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    Alice Qinhua Zhou, Corey S O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: The pioneering work of Ramachandran and colleagues emphasized the dominance of steric constraints in specifying the structure of polypeptides. The ubiquitous Ramachandran plot of backbone dihedral angles (ϕ and ψ) defined the allowed regions of conformational space. These predictions were subsequently confirmed in proteins of known structure. Ramachandran and colleagues also investigated the influence of the backbone angle τ on the distribution of allowed ϕ/ψ combinations. The "bridge region" (ϕ ≤ 0° and -20° ≤ ψ ≤ 40°) was predicted to be particularly sensitive to the value of τ. Here we present an analysis of the distribution of ϕ/ψ angles in 850 non-homologous proteins whose structures are known to a resolution of 1.7 Å or less and sidechain B-factor less than 30 Ų. We show that the distribution of ϕ/ψ angles for all 87,000 residues in these proteins shows the same dependence on τ as predicted by Ramachandran and colleagues. Our results are important because they make clear that steric constraints alone are sufficient to explain the backbone dihedral angle distributions observed in proteins. Contrary to recent suggestions, no additional energetic contributions, such as hydrogen bonding, need be invoked.
    Protein Science 07/2011; 20(7):1166-71. · 2.74 Impact Factor
  • Alice Zhou, Corey O'Hern, Lynne Regan
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    ABSTRACT: With the long-term goal to improve the design of protein-protein interactions, we have begun extensive computational studies to understand how side-chains of key residues of binding partners geometrically fit together at protein-peptide interfaces, e.g. the tetratrico-peptide repeat protein and its cognate peptide). We describe simple atomic-scale models of hydrophobic dipeptides, which include hard-core repulsion, bond length and angle constraints, and Van der Waals attraction. By completely enumerating all minimal energy structures in these systems, we are able to reproduce important features of the probability distributions of side chain dihedral angles of hydrophic residues in the protein data bank. These results are the crucial first step in developing computational models that can predict the side chain conformations of residues at protein-peptide interfaces.
    03/2011;
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    Alice Qinhua Zhou
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    ABSTRACT: Ever since the term "central dogma" was coined in 1958, researchers have sought to control information flow from nucleic acids to proteins. Talks delivered by Drs. Anna Pyle and Hiroaki Suga at this year's Chemical Biology Symposium at Yale in May 2010 applauded recent advances in this area, at the interface between chemistry and biology.
    The Yale journal of biology and medicine 09/2010; 83(3):131-3.