The significant work that has been invested toward understanding protein-protein interaction has not translated into significant advances in structure-based predictions. In particular redesigning protein surfaces to bind to unrelated receptors remains a challenge, partly due to receptor flexibility, which is often neglected in these efforts. In this work, we computationally graft the binding epitope of various small proteins obtained from the RCSB database to bind to barnase, lysozyme, and trypsin using a previously derived and validated algorithm. In an effort to probe the protein complexes in a realistic environment, all native and designer complexes were subjected to a total of nearly 400 ns of explicit-solvent molecular dynamics (MD) simulation. The MD data led to an unexpected observation: some of the designer complexes were highly unstable and decomposed during the trajectories. In contrast, the native and a number of designer complexes remained consistently stable. The unstable conformers provided us with a unique opportunity to define the structural and energetic factors that lead to unproductive protein-protein complexes. To that end we used free energy calculations following the MM-PBSA approach to determine the role of nonpolar effects, electrostatics and entropy in binding. Remarkably, we found that a majority of unstable complexes exhibited more favorable electrostatics than native or stable designer complexes, suggesting that favorable electrostatic interactions are not prerequisite for complex formation between proteins. However, nonpolar effects remained consistently more favorable in native and stable designer complexes reinforcing the importance of hydrophobic effects in protein-protein binding. While entropy systematically opposed binding in all cases, there was no observed trend in the entropy difference between native and designer complexes. A series of alanine scanning mutations of hot-spot residues at the interface of native and designer complexes showed less than optimal contacts of hot-spot residues with their surroundings in the unstable conformers, resulting in more favorable entropy for these complexes. Finally, disorder predictions revealed that secondary structures at the interface of unstable complexes exhibited greater disorder than the stable complexes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas