Elisabeth L Humphris

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States

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Publications (5)31.49 Total impact

  • Kevin S Keating · Elisabeth L Humphris · Anna Marie Pyle
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    ABSTRACT: Unlike proteins, the RNA backbone has numerous degrees of freedom (eight, if one counts the sugar pucker), making RNA modeling, structure building and prediction a multidimensional problem of exceptionally high complexity. And yet RNA tertiary structures are not infinite in their structural morphology; rather, they are built from a limited set of discrete units. In order to reduce the dimensionality of the RNA backbone in a physically reasonable way, a shorthand notation was created that reduced the RNA backbone torsion angles to two (η and θ, analogous to φ and ψ in proteins). When these torsion angles are calculated for nucleotides in a crystallographic database and plotted against one another, one obtains a plot analogous to a Ramachandran plot (the η/θ plot), with highly populated and unpopulated regions. Nucleotides that occupy proximal positions on the plot have identical structures and are found in the same units of tertiary structure. In this review, we describe the statistical validation of the η/θ formalism and the exploration of features within the η/θ plot. We also describe the application of the η/θ formalism in RNA motif discovery, structural comparison, RNA structure building and tertiary structure prediction. More than a tool, however, the η/θ formalism has provided new insights into RNA structure itself, revealing its fundamental components and the factors underlying RNA architectural form.
    No preview · Article · May 2011 · Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics
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    ABSTRACT: The RosettaBackrub server (http://kortemmelab.ucsf.edu/backrub) implements the Backrub method, derived from observations of alternative conformations in high-resolution protein crystal structures, for flexible backbone protein modeling. Backrub modeling is applied to three related applications using the Rosetta program for structure prediction and design: (I) modeling of structures of point mutations, (II) generating protein conformational ensembles and designing sequences consistent with these conformations and (III) predicting tolerated sequences at protein–protein interfaces. The three protocols have been validated on experimental data. Starting from a user-provided single input protein structure in PDB format, the server generates near-native conformational ensembles. The predicted conformations and sequences can be used for different applications, such as to guide mutagenesis experiments, for ensemble-docking approaches or to generate sequence libraries for protein design.
    Full-text · Article · May 2010 · Nucleic Acids Research
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    Elisabeth L Humphris · Tanja Kortemme
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    ABSTRACT: A major challenge in computational protein design is to identify functional sequences as top predictions. One reason for design failures is conformational plasticity, as proteins frequently change their conformation in response to mutations. To advance protein design, here we describe a method employing flexible backbone ensembles to predict sequences tolerated for a protein-protein interface. We show that the predictions are enriched in functional proteins when compared to a phage display screen quantitatively mapping the energy landscape for the interaction between human growth hormone and its receptor. Our model for structural plasticity is inspired by coupled side chain-backbone "backrub" motions observed in high-resolution protein crystal structures. Although the modeled structural changes are subtle, our results on predicting sequence plasticity suggest that backrub sampling may capture a sizable fraction of localized conformational changes that occur in proteins. The described method has implications for predicting sequence libraries to enable challenging protein engineering problems.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2009 · Structure
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    Elisabeth Lyn Humphris · Tanja Kortemme
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    ABSTRACT: Interactions in protein networks may place constraints on protein interface sequences to maintain correct and avoid unwanted interactions. Here we describe a "multi-constraint" protein design protocol to predict sequences optimized for multiple criteria, such as maintaining sets of interactions, and apply it to characterize the mechanism and extent to which 20 multi-specific proteins are constrained by binding to multiple partners. We find that multi-specific binding is accommodated by at least two distinct patterns. In the simplest case, all partners share key interactions, and sequences optimized for binding to either single or multiple partners recover only a subset of native amino acid residues as optimal. More interestingly, for signaling interfaces functioning as network "hubs," we identify a different, "multi-faceted" mode, where each binding partner prefers its own subset of wild-type residues within the promiscuous binding site. Here, integration of preferences across all partners results in sequences much more "native-like" than seen in optimization for any single binding partner alone, suggesting these interfaces are substantially optimized for multi-specificity. The two strategies make distinct predictions for interface evolution and design. Shared interfaces may be better small molecule targets, whereas multi-faceted interactions may be more "designable" for altered specificity patterns. The computational methodology presented here is generalizable for examining how naturally occurring protein sequences have been selected to satisfy a variety of positive and negative constraints, as well as for rationally designing proteins to have desired patterns of altered specificity.
    Preview · Article · Sep 2007 · PLoS Computational Biology
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    ABSTRACT: Kinetically stable proteins are unique in that their stability is determined solely by kinetic barriers rather than by thermodynamic equilibria. To better understand how kinetic stability promotes protein survival under extreme environmental conditions, we analyzed the unfolding behavior and determined the structure of Nocardiopsis alba Protease A (NAPase), an acid-resistant, kinetically stable protease, and compared these results with a neutrophilic homolog, alpha-lytic protease (alphaLP). Although NAPase and alphaLP have the same number of acid-titratable residues, kinetic studies revealed that the height of the unfolding free energy barrier for NAPase is less sensitive to acid than that of alphaLP, thereby accounting for NAPase's improved tolerance of low pH. A comparison of the alphaLP and NAPase structures identified multiple salt-bridges in the domain interface of alphaLP that were relocated to outer regions of NAPase, suggesting a novel mechanism of acid stability in which acid-sensitive electrostatic interactions are rearranged to similarly affect the energetics of both the native state and the unfolding transition state. An acid-stable variant of alphaLP in which a single interdomain salt-bridge is replaced with a corresponding intradomain NAPase salt-bridge shows a dramatic >15-fold increase in acid resistance, providing further evidence for this hypothesis. These observations also led to a general model of the unfolding transition state structure for alphaLP protease family members in which the two domains separate from each other while remaining relatively intact themselves. These results illustrate the remarkable utility of kinetic stability as an evolutionary tool for developing longevity over a broad range of harsh conditions.
    Preview · Article · Jun 2007 · Journal of Molecular Biology

Publication Stats

192 Citations
31.49 Total Impact Points


  • 2010-2011
    • Yale University
      • • Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
      • • Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry
      New Haven, Connecticut, United States
  • 2007
    • University of California, San Francisco
      • Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
      San Francisco, California, United States