Towards Accurate Modeling of Noncovalent Interactions for Protein Rigidity Analysis

Naomi Fox, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Ileana Streinu, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Archived as published. Open Access article.


Background: Protein rigidity analysis is an efficient computational method for extracting flexibility information from static, X-ray crystallography protein data. Atoms and bonds are modeled as a mechanical structure and analyzed with a fast graph-based algorithm, producing a decomposition of the flexible molecule into interconnected rigid clusters. The result depends critically on noncovalent atomic interactions, primarily on how hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions are computed and modeled. Ongoing research points to the stringent need for benchmarking rigidity analysis software systems, towards the goal of increasing their accuracy and validating their results, either against each other and against biologically relevant (functional) parameters. We propose two new methods for modeling hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions that more accurately reflect a mechanical model, without being computationally more intensive. We evaluate them using a novel scoring method, based on the B-cubed score from the information retrieval literature, which measures how well two cluster decompositions match. Results: To evaluate the modeling accuracy of KINARI, our pebble-game rigidity analysis system, we use a benchmark data set of 20 proteins, each with multiple distinct conformations deposited in the Protein Data Bank. Cluster decompositions for them were previously determined with the RigidFinder method from Gerstein's lab and validated against experimental data. When KINARI's default tuning parameters are used, an improvement of the Bcubed score over a crude baseline is observed in 30% of this data. With our new modeling options, improvements were observed in over 70% of the proteins in this data set. We investigate the sensitivity of the cluster decomposition score with case studies on pyruvate phosphate dikinase and calmodulin. Conclusion: To substantially improve the accuracy of protein rigidity analysis systems, thorough benchmarking must be performed on all current systems and future extensions. We have measured the gain in performance by comparing different modeling methods for noncovalent interactions. We showed that new criteria for modeling hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions can significantly improve the results. The two new methods proposed here have been implemented and made publicly available in the current version of KINARI (v1.3), together with the benchmarking tools, which can be downloaded from our software's website,