Optimization of rotamers prior to template minimization improves stability predictions made by computational protein design

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Computational protein design (CPD) predictions are highly dependent on the structure of the input template used. However, it is unclear how small differences in template geometry translate to large differences in stability prediction accuracy. Herein, we explored how structural changes to the input template affect the outcome of stability predictions by CPD. To do this, we prepared alternate templates by Rotamer Optimization followed by energy Minimization (ROM) and used them to recapitulate the stability of 84 protein G domain β1 mutant sequences. In the ROM process, side-chain rotamers for wild-type (WT) or mutant sequences are optimized on crystal or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structures prior to template minimization, resulting in alternate structures termed ROM templates. We show that use of ROM templates prepared from sequences known to be stable results predominantly in improved prediction accuracy compared to using the minimized crystal or NMR structures. Conversely, ROM templates prepared from sequences that are less stable than the WT reduce prediction accuracy by increasing the number of false positives. These observed changes in prediction outcomes are attributed to differences in side-chain contacts made by rotamers in ROM templates. Finally, we show that ROM templates prepared from sequences that are unfolded or that adopt a nonnative fold result in the selective enrichment of sequences that are also unfolded or that adopt a nonnative fold, respectively. Our results demonstrate the existence of a rotamer bias caused by the input template that can be harnessed to skew predictions toward sequences displaying desired characteristics.

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