A tool for the prediction of structures of complex sugars

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In two recent back to back articles(Xia et al., J Chem Theory Comput 3:1620–1628 and 1629–1643, 2007a, b) we have started to address the problem of complex oligosaccharide conformation and folding. The scheme previously presented was based on exhaustive searches in configuration space in conjunction with Nuclear Overhauser Effect (NOE) calculations and the use of a complex rotameric library that takes branching into account. NOEs are extremely useful for structural determination but only provide information about short range interactions and ordering. Instead, the measurement of residual dipolar couplings (RDC), yields information about molecular ordering or folding that is long range in nature. In this article we show the results obtained by incorporation RDC calculations into our prediction scheme. Using this new approach we are able to accurately predict the structure of six human milk sugars: LNF-1, LND-1, LNF-2, LNF-3, LNnT and LNT. Our exhaustive search in dihedral configuration space combined with RDC and NOE calculations allows for highly accurate structural predictions that, because of the non-ergodic nature of these molecules on a time scale compatible with molecular dynamics simulations, are extremely hard to obtain otherwise (Almond et al., Biochemistry 43:5853–5863, 2004). Molecular dynamics simulations in explicit solvent using as initial configurations the structures predicted by our algorithm show that the histo-blood group epitopes in these sugars are relatively rigid and that the whole family of oligosaccharides derives its conformational variability almost exclusively from their common linkage (β-D-GlcNAc-(1→3)-β-D-Gal) which can exist in two distinct conformational states. A population analysis based on the conformational variability of this flexible glycosidic link indicates that the relative population of the two distinct states varies for different human milk oligosaccharides.

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