PLoS Computational Biology
“Bioinformatics: Introduction and Methods,” a Bilingual Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as a New Example for Global Bioinformatics Education
by Yang Ding, Meng Wang, Yao He, Adam Yongxin Ye, Xiaoxu Yang, Fenglin Liu, Yuqi Meng, Ge Gao, Liping Wei
The Role of Membrane-Mediated Interactions in the Assembly and Architecture of Chemoreceptor Lattices
by Christoph A. Haselwandter, Ned S. WingreenIn vivo fluorescence microscopy and electron cryo-tomography have revealed that chemoreceptors self-assemble into extended honeycomb lattices of chemoreceptor trimers with a well-defined relative orientation of trimers. The signaling response of the observed chemoreceptor lattices is remarkable for its extreme sensitivity, which relies crucially on cooperative interactions among chemoreceptor trimers. In common with other membrane proteins, chemoreceptor trimers are expected to deform the surrounding lipid bilayer, inducing membrane-mediated anisotropic interactions between neighboring trimers. Here we introduce a biophysical model of bilayer-chemoreceptor interactions, which allows us to quantify the role of membrane-mediated interactions in the assembly and architecture of chemoreceptor lattices. We find that, even in the absence of direct protein-protein interactions, membrane-mediated interactions can yield assembly of chemoreceptor lattices at very dilute trimer concentrations. The model correctly predicts the observed honeycomb architecture of chemoreceptor lattices as well as the observed relative orientation of chemoreceptor trimers, suggests a series of “gateway” states for chemoreceptor lattice assembly, and provides a simple mechanism for the localization of large chemoreceptor lattices to the cell poles. Our model of bilayer-chemoreceptor interactions also helps to explain the observed dependence of chemotactic signaling on lipid bilayer properties. Finally, we consider the possibility that membrane-mediated interactions might contribute to cooperativity among neighboring chemoreceptor trimers.
SteatoNet: The First Integrated Human Metabolic Model with Multi-layered Regulation to Investigate Liver-Associated Pathologies
by Adviti Naik, Damjana Rozman, Aleš BeličCurrent state-of-the-art mathematical models to investigate complex biological processes, in particular liver-associated pathologies, have limited expansiveness, flexibility, representation of integrated regulation and rely on the availability of detailed kinetic data. We generated the SteatoNet, a multi-pathway, multi-tissue model and in silico platform to investigate hepatic metabolism and its associated deregulations. SteatoNet is based on object-oriented modelling, an approach most commonly applied in automotive and process industries, whereby individual objects correspond to functional entities. Objects were compiled to feature two novel hepatic modelling aspects: the interaction of hepatic metabolic pathways with extra-hepatic tissues and the inclusion of transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation. SteatoNet identification at normalised steady state circumvents the need for constraining kinetic parameters. Validation and identification of flux disturbances that have been proven experimentally in liver patients and animal models highlights the ability of SteatoNet to effectively describe biological behaviour. SteatoNet identifies crucial pathway branches (transport of glucose, lipids and ketone bodies) where changes in flux distribution drive the healthy liver towards hepatic steatosis, the primary stage of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Cholesterol metabolism and its transcription regulators are highlighted as novel steatosis factors. SteatoNet thus serves as an intuitive in silico platform to identify systemic changes associated with complex hepatic metabolic disorders.
Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Polymerase's Strong Affinity to Its Template Suggests Exotic Transcription Models
by Xiaolin Tang, Mourad Bendjennat, Saveez SaffarianVesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) is the prototype for negative sense non segmented (NNS) RNA viruses which include potent human and animal pathogens such as Rabies, Ebola and measles. The polymerases of NNS RNA viruses only initiate transcription at or near the 3′ end of their genome template. We measured the dissociation constant of VSV polymerases from their whole genome template to be 20 pM. Given this low dissociation constant, initiation and sustainability of transcription becomes nontrivial. To explore possible mechanisms, we simulated the first hour of transcription using Monte Carlo methods and show that a one-time initial dissociation of all polymerases during entry is not sufficient to sustain transcription. We further show that efficient transcription requires a sliding mechanism for non-transcribing polymerases and can be realized with different polymerase-polymerase interactions and distinct template topologies. In conclusion, we highlight a model in which collisions between transcribing and sliding non-transcribing polymerases result in release of the non-transcribing polymerases allowing for redistribution of polymerases between separate templates during transcription and suggest specific experiments to further test these mechanisms.
by Krishna Praneeth Kilambi, Kavan Reddy, Jeffrey J. GrayProtein-protein interactions depend on a host of environmental factors. Local pH conditions influence the interactions through the protonation states of the ionizable residues that can change upon binding. In this work, we present a pH-sensitive docking approach, pHDock, that can sample side-chain protonation states of five ionizable residues (Asp, Glu, His, Tyr, Lys) on-the-fly during the docking simulation. pHDock produces successful local docking funnels in approximately half (79/161) the protein complexes, including 19 cases where standard RosettaDock fails. pHDock also performs better than the two control cases comprising docking at pH 7.0 or using fixed, predetermined protonation states. On average, the top-ranked pHDock structures have lower interface RMSDs and recover more native interface residue-residue contacts and hydrogen bonds compared to RosettaDock. Addition of backbone flexibility using a computationally-generated conformational ensemble further improves native contact and hydrogen bond recovery in the top-ranked structures. Although pHDock is designed to improve docking, it also successfully predicts a large pH-dependent binding affinity change in the Fc–FcRn complex, suggesting that it can be exploited to improve affinity predictions. The approaches in the study contribute to the goal of structural simulations of whole-cell protein-protein interactions including all the environmental factors, and they can be further expanded for pH-sensitive protein design.
by The PLOS Computational Biology Staff
Molecular Insights into the Dynamics of Pharmacogenetically Important N-Terminal Variants of the Human β2-Adrenergic Receptor
by Ganesh Shahane, Chirag Parsania, Durba Sengupta, Manali JoshiThe human β2-adrenergic receptor (β2AR), a member of the G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) family, is expressed in bronchial smooth muscle cells. Upon activation by agonists, β2AR causes bronchodilation and relief in asthma patients. The N-terminal polymorphism of β2AR at the 16th position, Arg16Gly, has warranted a lot of attention since it is linked to variations in response to albuterol (agonist) treatment. Although the β2AR is one of the well-studied GPCRs, the N-terminus which harbors this mutation, is absent in all available experimental structures. The goal of this work was to study the molecular level differences between the N-terminal variants using structural modeling and atomistic molecular dynamics simulations. Our simulations reveal that the N-terminal region of the Arg variant shows greater dynamics than the Gly variant, leading to differential placement. Further, the position and dynamics of the N-terminal region, further, affects the ligand binding-site accessibility. Interestingly, long-range effects are also seen at the ligand binding site, which is marginally larger in the Gly as compared to the Arg variant resulting in the preferential docking of albuterol to the Gly variant. This study thus reveals key differences between the variants providing a molecular framework towards understanding the variable drug response in asthma patients.
Disrupted Calcium Release as a Mechanism for Atrial Alternans Associated with Human Atrial Fibrillation
by Kelly C. Chang, Jason D. Bayer, Natalia A. TrayanovaAtrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, but our knowledge of the arrhythmogenic substrate is incomplete. Alternans, the beat-to-beat alternation in the shape of cardiac electrical signals, typically occurs at fast heart rates and leads to arrhythmia. However, atrial alternans have been observed at slower pacing rates in AF patients than in controls, suggesting that increased vulnerability to arrhythmia in AF patients may be due to the proarrythmic influence of alternans at these slower rates. As such, alternans may present a useful therapeutic target for the treatment and prevention of AF, but the mechanism underlying alternans occurrence in AF patients at heart rates near rest is unknown. The goal of this study was to determine how cellular changes that occur in human AF affect the appearance of alternans at heart rates near rest. To achieve this, we developed a computational model of human atrial tissue incorporating electrophysiological remodeling associated with chronic AF (cAF) and performed parameter sensitivity analysis of ionic model parameters to determine which cellular changes led to alternans. Of the 20 parameters tested, only decreasing the ryanodine receptor (RyR) inactivation rate constant (kiCa) produced action potential duration (APD) alternans seen clinically at slower pacing rates. Using single-cell clamps of voltage, fluxes, and state variables, we determined that alternans onset was Ca2+-driven rather than voltage-driven and occurred as a result of decreased RyR inactivation which led to increased steepness of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ release slope. Iterated map analysis revealed that because SR Ca2+ uptake efficiency was much higher in control atrial cells than in cAF cells, drastic reductions in kiCa were required to produce alternans at comparable pacing rates in control atrial cells. These findings suggest that RyR kinetics may play a critical role in altered Ca2+ homeostasis which drives proarrhythmic APD alternans in patients with AF.
Pyranose Dehydrogenase Ligand Promiscuity: A Generalized Approach to Simulate Monosaccharide Solvation, Binding, and Product Formation
by Michael M. H. Graf, Lin Zhixiong, Urban Bren, Dietmar Haltrich, Wilfred F. van Gunsteren, Chris OostenbrinkThe flavoenzyme pyranose dehydrogenase (PDH) from the litter decomposing fungus Agaricus meleagris oxidizes many different carbohydrates occurring during lignin degradation. This promiscuous substrate specificity makes PDH a promising catalyst for bioelectrochemical applications. A generalized approach to simulate all 32 possible aldohexopyranoses in the course of one or a few molecular dynamics (MD) simulations is reported. Free energy calculations according to the one-step perturbation (OSP) method revealed the solvation free energies (ΔGsolv) of all 32 aldohexopyranoses in water, which have not yet been reported in the literature. The free energy difference between β- and α-anomers (ΔGβ-α) of all d-stereoisomers in water were compared to experimental values with a good agreement. Moreover, the free-energy differences (ΔG) of the 32 stereoisomers bound to PDH in two different poses were calculated from MD simulations. The relative binding free energies (ΔΔGbind) were calculated and, where available, compared to experimental values, approximated from Km values. The agreement was very good for one of the poses, in which the sugars are positioned in the active site for oxidation at C1 or C2. Distance analysis between hydrogens of the monosaccharide and the reactive N5-atom of the flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) revealed that oxidation is possible at HC1 or HC2 for pose A, and at HC3 or HC4 for pose B. Experimentally detected oxidation products could be rationalized for the majority of monosaccharides by combining ΔΔGbind and a reweighted distance analysis. Furthermore, several oxidation products were predicted for sugars that have not yet been tested experimentally, directing further analyses. This study rationalizes the relationship between binding free energies and substrate promiscuity in PDH, providing novel insights for its applicability in bioelectrochemistry. The results suggest that a similar approach could be applied to study promiscuity of other enzymes.
by Sven Jahnke, Raoul-Martin Memmesheimer, Marc TimmeReliable signal transmission constitutes a key requirement for neural circuit function. The propagation of synchronous pulse packets through recurrent circuits is hypothesized to be one robust form of signal transmission and has been extensively studied in computational and theoretical works. Yet, although external or internally generated oscillations are ubiquitous across neural systems, their influence on such signal propagation is unclear. Here we systematically investigate the impact of oscillations on propagating synchrony. We find that for standard, additive couplings and a net excitatory effect of oscillations, robust propagation of synchrony is enabled in less prominent feed-forward structures than in systems without oscillations. In the presence of non-additive coupling (as mediated by fast dendritic spikes), even balanced oscillatory inputs may enable robust propagation. Here, emerging resonances create complex locking patterns between oscillations and spike synchrony. Interestingly, these resonances make the circuits capable of selecting specific pathways for signal transmission. Oscillations may thus promote reliable transmission and, in co-action with dendritic nonlinearities, provide a mechanism for information processing by selectively gating and routing of signals. Our results are of particular interest for the interpretation of sharp wave/ripple complexes in the hippocampus, where previously learned spike patterns are replayed in conjunction with global high-frequency oscillations. We suggest that the oscillations may serve to stabilize the replay.
by Pablo Sartori, Léo Granger, Chiu Fan Lee, Jordan M. HorowitzBiological sensory systems react to changes in their surroundings. They are characterized by fast response and slow adaptation to varying environmental cues. Insofar as sensory adaptive systems map environmental changes to changes of their internal degrees of freedom, they can be regarded as computational devices manipulating information. Landauer established that information is ultimately physical, and its manipulation subject to the entropic and energetic bounds of thermodynamics. Thus the fundamental costs of biological sensory adaptation can be elucidated by tracking how the information the system has about its environment is altered. These bounds are particularly relevant for small organisms, which unlike everyday computers, operate at very low energies. In this paper, we establish a general framework for the thermodynamics of information processing in sensing. With it, we quantify how during sensory adaptation information about the past is erased, while information about the present is gathered. This process produces entropy larger than the amount of old information erased and has an energetic cost bounded by the amount of new information written to memory. We apply these principles to the E. coli's chemotaxis pathway during binary ligand concentration changes. In this regime, we quantify the amount of information stored by each methyl group and show that receptors consume energy in the range of the information-theoretic minimum. Our work provides a basis for further inquiries into more complex phenomena, such as gradient sensing and frequency response.
by Lin Chen, Javad Noorbakhsh, Rhys M. Adams, Joseph Samaniego-Evans, Germaine Agollah, Dmitry Nevozhay, Jennie Kuzdzal-Fick, Pankaj Mehta, Gábor BalázsiYeasts can form multicellular patterns as they expand on agar plates, a phenotype that requires a functional copy of the FLO11 gene. Although the biochemical and molecular requirements for such patterns have been examined, the mechanisms underlying their formation are not entirely clear. Here we develop quantitative methods to accurately characterize the size, shape, and surface patterns of yeast colonies for various combinations of agar and sugar concentrations. We combine these measurements with mathematical and physical models and find that FLO11 gene constrains cells to grow near the agar surface, causing the formation of larger and more irregular colonies that undergo hierarchical wrinkling. Head-to-head competition assays on agar plates indicate that two-dimensional constraint on the expansion of FLO11 wild type (FLO11) cells confers a fitness advantage over FLO11 knockout (flo11Δ) cells on the agar surface.
Sliding of Proteins Non-specifically Bound to DNA: Brownian Dynamics Studies with Coarse-Grained Protein and DNA Models
by Tadashi Ando, Jeffrey SkolnickDNA binding proteins efficiently search for their cognitive sites on long genomic DNA by combining 3D diffusion and 1D diffusion (sliding) along the DNA. Recent experimental results and theoretical analyses revealed that the proteins show a rotation-coupled sliding along DNA helical pitch. Here, we performed Brownian dynamics simulations using newly developed coarse-grained protein and DNA models for evaluating how hydrodynamic interactions between the protein and DNA molecules, binding affinity of the protein to DNA, and DNA fluctuations affect the one dimensional diffusion of the protein on the DNA. Our results indicate that intermolecular hydrodynamic interactions reduce 1D diffusivity by 30%. On the other hand, structural fluctuations of DNA give rise to steric collisions between the CG-proteins and DNA, resulting in faster 1D sliding of the protein. Proteins with low binding affinities consistent with experimental estimates of non-specific DNA binding show hopping along the CG-DNA. This hopping significantly increases sliding speed. These simulation studies provide additional insights into the mechanism of how DNA binding proteins find their target sites on the genome.
The Pharmacodynamics of the p53-Mdm2 Targeting Drug Nutlin: The Role of Gene-Switching Noise
by Krzysztof Puszynski, Alberto Gandolfi, Alberto d'OnofrioIn this work we investigate, by means of a computational stochastic model, how tumor cells with wild-type p53 gene respond to the drug Nutlin, an agent that interferes with the Mdm2-mediated p53 regulation. In particular, we show how the stochastic gene-switching controlled by p53 can explain experimental dose-response curves, i.e., the observed inter-cell variability of the cell viability under Nutlin action. The proposed model describes in some detail the regulation network of p53, including the negative feedback loop mediated by Mdm2 and the positive loop mediated by PTEN, as well as the reversible inhibition of Mdm2 caused by Nutlin binding. The fate of the individual cell is assumed to be decided by the rising of nuclear-phosphorylated p53 over a certain threshold. We also performed in silico experiments to evaluate the dose-response curve after a single drug dose delivered in mice, or after its fractionated administration. Our results suggest that dose-splitting may be ineffective at low doses and effective at high doses. This complex behavior can be due to the interplay among the existence of a threshold on the p53 level for its cell activity, the nonlinearity of the relationship between the bolus dose and the peak of active p53, and the relatively fast elimination of the drug.
Correction: Cell Type Specific Alterations in Interchromosomal Networks across the Cell Cycle
by The PLOS Computational Biology Staff
Membrane Partitioning of Anionic, Ligand-Coated Nanoparticles Is Accompanied by Ligand Snorkeling, Local Disordering, and Cholesterol Depletion
by Paraskevi Gkeka, Panagiotis Angelikopoulos, Lev Sarkisov, Zoe CourniaIntracellular uptake of nanoparticles (NPs) may induce phase transitions, restructuring, stretching, or even complete disruption of the cell membrane. Therefore, NP cytotoxicity assessment requires a thorough understanding of the mechanisms by which these engineered nanostructures interact with the cell membrane. In this study, extensive Coarse-Grained Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations are performed to investigate the partitioning of an anionic, ligand-decorated NP in model membranes containing dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) phospholipids and different concentrations of cholesterol. Spontaneous fusion and translocation of the anionic NP is not observed in any of the 10-µs unbiased MD simulations, indicating that longer timescales may be required for such phenomena to occur. This picture is supported by the free energy analysis, revealing a considerable free energy barrier for NP translocation across the lipid bilayer. 5-µs unbiased MD simulations with the NP inserted in the bilayer core reveal that the hydrophobic and hydrophilic ligands of the NP surface rearrange to form optimal contacts with the lipid bilayer, leading to the so-called snorkeling effect. Inside cholesterol-containing bilayers, the NP induces rearrangement of the structure of the lipid bilayer in its vicinity from the liquid-ordered to the liquid phase spanning a distance almost twice its core radius (8–10 nm). Based on the physical insights obtained in this study, we propose a mechanism of cellular anionic NPpartitioning, which requires structural rearrangements of both the NP and the bilayer, and conclude that the translocation of anionic NPs through cholesterol-rich membranes must be accompanied by formation of cholesterol-lean regions in the proximity of NPs.
by Hua Cheng, R. Dustin Schaeffer, Yuxing Liao, Lisa N. Kinch, Jimin Pei, Shuoyong Shi, Bong-Hyun Kim, Nick V. GrishinUnderstanding the evolution of a protein, including both close and distant relationships, often reveals insight into its structure and function. Fast and easy access to such up-to-date information facilitates research. We have developed a hierarchical evolutionary classification of all proteins with experimentally determined spatial structures, and presented it as an interactive and updatable online database. ECOD (Evolutionary Classification of protein Domains) is distinct from other structural classifications in that it groups domains primarily by evolutionary relationships (homology), rather than topology (or “fold”). This distinction highlights cases of homology between domains of differing topology to aid in understanding of protein structure evolution. ECOD uniquely emphasizes distantly related homologs that are difficult to detect, and thus catalogs the largest number of evolutionary links among structural domain classifications. Placing distant homologs together underscores the ancestral similarities of these proteins and draws attention to the most important regions of sequence and structure, as well as conserved functional sites. ECOD also recognizes closer sequence-based relationships between protein domains. Currently, approximately 100,000 protein structures are classified in ECOD into 9,000 sequence families clustered into close to 2,000 evolutionary groups. The classification is assisted by an automated pipeline that quickly and consistently classifies weekly releases of PDB structures and allows for continual updates. This synchronization with PDB uniquely distinguishes ECOD among all protein classifications. Finally, we present several case studies of homologous proteins not recorded in other classifications, illustrating the potential of how ECOD can be used to further biological and evolutionary studies.
by Gergely Boza, András Szilágyi, Ádám Kun, Mauro Santos, Eörs SzathmáryThe RNA world is a very likely interim stage of the evolution after the first replicators and before the advent of the genetic code and translated proteins. Ribozymes are known to be able to catalyze many reaction types, including cofactor-aided metabolic transformations. In a metabolically complex RNA world, early division of labor between genes and enzymes could have evolved, where the ribozymes would have been transcribed from the genes more often than the other way round, benefiting the encapsulating cells through this dosage effect. Here we show, by computer simulations of protocells harboring unlinked RNA replicators, that the origin of replicational asymmetry producing more ribozymes from a gene template than gene strands from a ribozyme template is feasible and robust. Enzymatic activities of the two modeled ribozymes are in trade-off with their replication rates, and the relative replication rates compared to those of complementary strands are evolvable traits of the ribozymes. The degree of trade-off is shown to have the strongest effect in favor of the division of labor. Although some asymmetry between gene and enzymatic strands could have evolved even in earlier, surface-bound systems, the shown mechanism in protocells seems inevitable and under strong positive selection. This could have preadapted the genetic system for transcription after the subsequent origin of chromosomes and DNA.
The Amino Acid Alphabet and the Architecture of the Protein Sequence-Structure Map. I. Binary Alphabets
by Evandro FerradaThe correspondence between protein sequences and structures, or sequence-structure map, relates to fundamental aspects of structural, evolutionary and synthetic biology. The specifics of the mapping, such as the fraction of accessible sequences and structures, or the sequences' ability to fold fast, are dictated by the type of interactions between the monomers that compose the sequences. The set of possible interactions between monomers is encapsulated by the potential energy function. In this study, I explore the impact of the relative forces of the potential on the architecture of the sequence-structure map. My observations rely on simple exact models of proteins and random samples of the space of potential energy functions of binary alphabets. I adopt a graph perspective and study the distribution of viable sequences and the structures they produce, as networks of sequences connected by point mutations. I observe that the relative proportion of attractive, neutral and repulsive forces defines types of potentials, that induce sequence-structure maps of vastly different architectures. I characterize the properties underlying these differences and relate them to the structure of the potential. Among these properties are the expected number and relative distribution of sequences associated to specific structures and the diversity of structures as a function of sequence divergence. I study the types of binary potentials observed in natural amino acids and show that there is a strong bias towards only some types of potentials, a bias that seems to characterize the folding code of natural proteins. I discuss implications of these observations for the architecture of the sequence-structure map of natural proteins, the construction of random libraries of peptides, and the early evolution of the natural amino acid alphabet.
by Ofri Raviv, Itay Lieder, Yonatan Loewenstein, Merav AhissarBiases such as the preference of a particular response for no obvious reason, are an integral part of psychophysics. Such biases have been reported in the common two-alternative forced choice (2AFC) experiments, where participants are instructed to compare two consecutively presented stimuli. However, the principles underlying these biases are largely unknown and previous studies have typically used ad-hoc explanations to account for them. Here we consider human performance in the 2AFC tone frequency discrimination task, utilizing two standard protocols. In both protocols, each trial contains a reference stimulus. In one (Reference-Lower protocol), the frequency of the reference stimulus is always lower than that of the comparison stimulus, whereas in the other (Reference protocol), the frequency of the reference stimulus is either lower or higher than that of the comparison stimulus. We find substantial interval biases. Namely, participants perform better when the reference is in a specific interval. Surprisingly, the biases in the two experiments are opposite: performance is better when the reference is in the first interval in the Reference protocol, but is better when the reference is second in the Reference-Lower protocol. This inconsistency refutes previous accounts of the interval bias, and is resolved when experiments statistics is considered. Viewing perception as incorporation of sensory input with prior knowledge accumulated during the experiment accounts for the seemingly contradictory biases both qualitatively and quantitatively. The success of this account implies that even simple discriminations reflect a combination of sensory limitations, memory limitations, and the ability to utilize stimuli statistics.