Despite significant advances in resolution, the potential for cryo-electron microscopy (EM) to be used in determining the structures of protein-drug complexes remains unrealized. Determination of accurate structures and coordination of bound ligands necessitates simultaneous fitting of the models into the density envelopes, exhaustive sampling of the ligand geometries, and, most importantly, concomitant rearrangements in the side chains to optimize the binding energy changes. In this article, we present a flexible-fitting pipeline where molecular dynamics flexible fitting (MDFF) is used to refine structures of protein-ligand complexes from 3 to 5 Å electron density data. Enhanced sampling is employed to explore the binding pocket rearrangements. To provide a model that can accurately describe the conformational dynamics of the chemically diverse set of small-molecule drugs inside MDFF, we use QM/MM and neural-network potential (NNP)/MM models of protein-ligand complexes, where the ligand is represented using the QM or NNP model, and the protein is represented using established molecular mechanical force fields (e.g., CHARMM). This pipeline offers structures commensurate to or better than recently submitted high-resolution cryo-EM or X-ray models, even when given medium to low-resolution data as input. The use of the NNPs makes the algorithm more robust to the choice of search models, offering a radius of convergence of 6.5 Å for ligand structure determination. The quality of the predicted structures was also judged by density functional theory calculations of ligand strain energy. This strain potential energy is found to systematically decrease with better fitting to density and improved ligand coordination, indicating correct binding interactions. A computationally inexpensive protocol for computing strain energy is reported as part of the model analysis protocol that monitors both the ligand fit as well as model quality.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Computer Science Applications
- Library and Information Sciences