Identification of DNA-binding protein target sequences by physical effective energy functions: free energy analysis of lambda repressor-DNA complexes

Moroni, Elisabetta; Caselle, Michele; Fogolari, Federico
January 2007
BMC Structural Biology;2007, Vol. 7, p61
Academic Journal
Background: Specific binding of proteins to DNA is one of the most common ways gene expression is controlled. Although general rules for the DNA-protein recognition can be derived, the ambiguous and complex nature of this mechanism precludes a simple recognition code, therefore the prediction of DNA target sequences is not straightforward. DNA-protein interactions can be studied using computational methods which can complement the current experimental methods and offer some advantages. In the present work we use physical effective potentials to evaluate the DNA-protein binding affinities for the λ repressor-DNA complex for which structural and thermodynamic experimental data are available. Results: The binding free energy of two molecules can be expressed as the sum of an intermolecular energy (evaluated using a molecular mechanics forcefield), a solvation free energy term and an entropic term. Different solvation models are used including distance dependent dielectric constants, solvent accessible surface tension models and the Generalized Born model. The effect of conformational sampling by Molecular Dynamics simulations on the computed binding energy is assessed; results show that this effect is in general negative and the reproducibility of the experimental values decreases with the increase of simulation time considered. The free energy of binding for non-specific complexes, estimated using the best energetic model, agrees with earlier theoretical suggestions. As a results of these analyses, we propose a protocol for the prediction of DNA-binding target sequences. The possibility of searching regulatory elements within the bacteriophage λ genome using this protocol is explored. Our analysis shows good prediction capabilities, even in absence of any thermodynamic data and information on the naturally recognized sequence. Conclusion: This study supports the conclusion that physics-based methods can offer a completely complementary methodology to sequence-based methods for the identification of DNA-binding protein target sequences.


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