Systematic Exploration of Protein Conformational Space using a Distance Geometry Approach
T.E. Malliavin, A. Mucherino, C. Lavor, L. Liberti

The optimization approaches classically used during the determination of protein structure encounter various difficulties, especially when the size of the conformational space is large. Indeed, in such a case, algorithmic convergence criteria are more difficult to set up. Moreover, the size of the search space makes it difficult to achieve a complete exploration. The interval branch-and-prune (iBP) approach, based on the reformulation of the distance geometry problem (DGP) provides a theoretical frame for the generation of protein conformations, by systematically sampling the conformational space. When an appropriate subset of interatomic distances is known exactly, this worst-case exponential-time algorithm is provably complete and fixed-parameter tractable. These guarantees, however, immediately disappear as distance measurement errors are introduced. Here we propose an improvement of this approach: threading-augmented interval branch-and-prune (TAiBP), where the combinatorial explosion of the original iBP approach arising from its exponential complexity is alleviated by partitioning the input instances into consecutive peptide fragments and by using self-organizing maps (SOMs) to obtain clusters of similar solutions. A validation of the TAiBP approach is presented here on a set of proteins of various sizes and structures. The calculation inputs are a uniform covalent geometry extracted from force field covalent terms, the backbone dihedral angles with error intervals, and a few long-range distances. For most of the proteins smaller than 50 residues and interval widths of 20 degrees, the TAiBP approach yielded solutions with RMSD values smaller than 3 Angstroms with respect to the initial protein conformation. The efficiency of the TAiBP approach for proteins larger than 50 residues will require the use of nonuniform covalent geometry and may have benefits from the recent development of residue-specific force-fields.