Publications

2016
Vu, H. T. ; Chakrabarti, S. ; Hinczewski, M. ; Thirumalai, D. Discrete Step Sizes of Molecular Motors Lead to Bimodal Non-Gaussian Velocity Distributions under Force. Phys. Rev. Lett. 2016, 117, 078101. DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.078101Abstract

Fluctuations in the physical properties of biological machines are inextricably linked to their functions. Distributions of run lengths and velocities of processive molecular motors, like kinesin-1, are accessible through single-molecule techniques, but rigorous theoretical models for these probabilities are lacking. Here, we derive exact analytic results for a kinetic model to predict the resistive force (F)-dependent velocity [P(v)] and run length [P(n)] distribution functions of generic finitely processive molecular motors. Our theory quantitatively explains the zero force kinesin-1 data for both P(n) and P(v) using the detachment rate as the only parameter. In addition, we predict the F dependence of these quantities. At nonzero FP(v) is non-Gaussian and is bimodal with peaks at positive and negative values of v, which is due to the discrete step size of kinesin-1. Although the predictions are based on analyses of kinesin-1 data, our results are general and should hold for any processive motor, which walks on a track by taking discrete steps.

Goldtzvik, Y. ; Zhang, Z. ; Thirumalai, D. Importance of Hydrodynamic Interactions in the Stepping Kinetics of Kinesin. J Phys Chem B 2016, 120, 2071-5.Abstract
Conventional kinesin walks by a hand-over-hand mechanism on the microtubule (MT) by taking ∼8 nm discrete steps and consumes one ATP molecule per step. The time needed to complete a single step is on the order of 20 μs. We show, using simulations of a coarse-grained model of the complex containing the two motor heads, the MT and the coiled coil, that to obtain quantitative agreement with experiments for the stepping kinetics hydrodynamic interactions (HIs) have to be included. In simulations without hydrodynamic interactions, spanning nearly 20 μs, not a single step was completed in one hundred trajectories. In sharp contrast, nearly 14% of the steps reached the target binding site within 6 μs when HIs were included. Somewhat surprisingly, there are qualitative differences in the diffusion pathways in simulations with and without HI. The extent of movement of the trailing head of kinesin on the MT during the diffusion stage of stepping is considerably greater in simulations with HI than in those without HI. It is likely that inclusion of HI is crucial in the accurate description of motility of other motors as well.
Liu, Z. ; Reddy, G. ; Thirumalai, D. Folding PDZ2 Domain Using the Molecular Transfer Model. J Phys Chem B 2016.
Zhuravlev, P. I. ; Hinczewski, M. ; Chakrabarti, S. ; Marqusee, S. ; Thirumalai, D. Reply to Alberti: Are in vitro folding experiments relevant in vivo?. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016, 113, E3192.
Hinczewski, M. ; Thirumalai, D. Noise Control in Gene Regulatory Networks with Negative Feedback. J Phys Chem B 2016, 120, 6166-77.Abstract
Genes and proteins regulate cellular functions through complex circuits of biochemical reactions. Fluctuations in the components of these regulatory networks result in noise that invariably corrupts the signal, possibly compromising function. Here, we create a practical formalism based on ideas introduced by Wiener and Kolmogorov (WK) for filtering noise in engineered communications systems to quantitatively assess the extent to which noise can be controlled in biological processes involving negative feedback. Application of the theory, which reproduces the previously proven scaling of the lower bound for noise suppression in terms of the number of signaling events, shows that a tetracycline repressor-based negative-regulatory gene circuit behaves as a WK filter. For the class of Hill-like nonlinear regulatory functions, this type of filter provides the optimal reduction in noise. Our theoretical approach can be readily combined with experimental measurements of response functions in a wide variety of genetic circuits, to elucidate the general principles by which biological networks minimize noise.
Hinczewski, M. ; Hyeon, C. ; Thirumalai, D. Directly measuring single-molecule heterogeneity using force spectroscopy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016, 113, E3852-61.Abstract
One of the most intriguing results of single-molecule experiments on proteins and nucleic acids is the discovery of functional heterogeneity: the observation that complex cellular machines exhibit multiple, biologically active conformations. The structural differences between these conformations may be subtle, but each distinct state can be remarkably long-lived, with interconversions between states occurring only at macroscopic timescales, fractions of a second or longer. Although we now have proof of functional heterogeneity in a handful of systems-enzymes, motors, adhesion complexes-identifying and measuring it remains a formidable challenge. Here, we show that evidence of this phenomenon is more widespread than previously known, encoded in data collected from some of the most well-established single-molecule techniques: atomic force microscopy or optical tweezer pulling experiments. We present a theoretical procedure for analyzing distributions of rupture/unfolding forces recorded at different pulling speeds. This results in a single parameter, quantifying the degree of heterogeneity, and also leads to bounds on the equilibration and conformational interconversion timescales. Surveying 10 published datasets, we find heterogeneity in 5 of them, all with interconversion rates slower than 10 s(-1) Moreover, we identify two systems where additional data at realizable pulling velocities is likely to find a theoretically predicted, but so far unobserved crossover regime between heterogeneous and nonheterogeneous behavior. The significance of this regime is that it will allow far more precise estimates of the slow conformational switching times, one of the least understood aspects of functional heterogeneity.
Hori, N. ; Denesyuk, N. A. ; Thirumalai, D. Salt Effects on the Thermodynamics of a Frameshifting RNA Pseudoknot under Tension. J Mol Biol 2016, 428, 2847-59. DOI:10.1016/j.jmb.2016.06.002Abstract

Because of the potential link between -1 programmed ribosomal frameshifting and response of a pseudoknot (PK) RNA to force, a number of single-molecule pulling experiments have been performed on PKs to decipher the mechanism of programmed ribosomal frameshifting. Motivated in part by these experiments, we performed simulations using a coarse-grained model of RNA to describe the response of a PK over a range of mechanical forces (fs) and monovalent salt concentrations (Cs). The coarse-grained simulations quantitatively reproduce the multistep thermal melting observed in experiments, thus validating our model. The free energy changes obtained in simulations are in excellent agreement with experiments. By varying f and C, we calculated the phase diagram that shows a sequence of structural transitions, populating distinct intermediate states. As f and C are changed, the stem-loop tertiary interactions rupture first, followed by unfolding of the 3'-end hairpin (I⇌F). Finally, the 5'-end hairpin unravels, producing an extended state (E⇌I). A theoretical analysis of the phase boundaries shows that the critical force for rupture scales as (logCm)(α) with α=1(0.5) for E⇌I (I⇌F) transition. This relation is used to obtain the preferential ion-RNA interaction coefficient, which can be quantitatively measured in single-molecule experiments, as done previously for DNA hairpins. A by-product of our work is the suggestion that the frameshift efficiency is likely determined by the stability of the 5'-end hairpin that the ribosome first encounters during translation.

Zhuravlev, P. I. ; Hinczewski, M. ; Chakrabarti, S. ; Marqusee, S. ; Thirumalai, D. Force-dependent switch in protein unfolding pathways and transition-state movements. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016, 113, E715-24.Abstract
Although it is known that single-domain proteins fold and unfold by parallel pathways, demonstration of this expectation has been difficult to establish in experiments. Unfolding rate, [Formula: see text], as a function of force f, obtained in single-molecule pulling experiments on src SH3 domain, exhibits upward curvature on a [Formula: see text] plot. Similar observations were reported for other proteins for the unfolding rate [Formula: see text]. These findings imply unfolding in these single-domain proteins involves a switch in the pathway as f or [Formula: see text] is increased from a low to a high value. We provide a unified theory demonstrating that if [Formula: see text] as a function of a perturbation (f or [Formula: see text]) exhibits upward curvature then the underlying energy landscape must be strongly multidimensional. Using molecular simulations we provide a structural basis for the switch in the pathways and dramatic shifts in the transition-state ensemble (TSE) in src SH3 domain as f is increased. We show that a single-point mutation shifts the upward curvature in [Formula: see text] to a lower force, thus establishing the malleability of the underlying folding landscape. Our theory, applicable to any perturbation that affects the free energy of the protein linearly, readily explains movement in the TSE in a β-sandwich (I27) protein and single-chain monellin as the denaturant concentration is varied. We predict that in the force range accessible in laser optical tweezer experiments there should be a switch in the unfolding pathways in I27 or its mutants.
Chakrabarti, S. ; Hinczewski, M. ; Thirumalai, D. Phenomenological and microscopic theories for catch bonds. J Struct Biol 2016.Abstract
Lifetimes of bound states of protein complexes or biomolecule folded states typically decrease when subject to mechanical force. However, a plethora of biological systems exhibit the counter-intuitive phenomenon of catch bonding, where non-covalent bonds become stronger under externally applied forces. The quest to understand the origin of catch-bond behavior has led to the development of phenomenological and microscopic theories that can quantitatively recapitulate experimental data. Here, we assess the successes and limitations of such theories in explaining experimental data. The most widely applied approach is a phenomenological two-state model, which fits all of the available data on a variety of complexes: actomyosin, kinetochore-microtubule, selectin-ligand, and cadherin-catenin binding to filamentous actin. With a primary focus on the selectin family of cell-adhesion complexes, we discuss the positives and negatives of phenomenological models and the importance of evaluating the physical relevance of fitting parameters. We describe a microscopic theory for selectins, which provides a structural basis for catch bonds and predicts a crucial allosteric role for residues Asn82-Glu88. We emphasize the need for new theories and simulations that can mimic experimental conditions, given the complex response of cell adhesion complexes to force and their potential role in a variety of biological contexts.
2015
Qin, M. ; Wang, W. ; Thirumalai, D. Protein folding guides disulfide bond formation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2015, 112, 11241-6.Abstract
The Anfinsen principle that the protein sequence uniquely determines its structure is based on experiments on oxidative refolding of a protein with disulfide bonds. The problem of how protein folding drives disulfide bond formation is poorly understood. Here, we have solved this long-standing problem by creating a general method for implementing the chemistry of disulfide bond formation and rupture in coarse-grained molecular simulations. As a case study, we investigate the oxidative folding of bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor (BPTI). After confirming the experimental findings that the multiple routes to the folded state contain a network of states dominated by native disulfides, we show that the entropically unfavorable native single disulfide [14-38] between Cys14 and Cys38 forms only after polypeptide chain collapse and complete structuring of the central core of the protein containing an antiparallel β-sheet. Subsequent assembly, resulting in native two-disulfide bonds and the folded state, involves substantial unfolding of the protein and transient population of nonnative structures. The rate of [14-38] formation increases as the β-sheet stability increases. The flux to the native state, through a network of kinetically connected native-like intermediates, changes dramatically by altering the redox conditions. Disulfide bond formation between Cys residues not present in the native state are relevant only on the time scale of collapse of BPTI. The finding that formation of specific collapsed native-like structures guides efficient folding is applicable to a broad class of single-domain proteins, including enzyme-catalyzed disulfide proteins.
Kang, H. ; Toan, N. M. ; Hyeon, C. ; Thirumalai, D. Unexpected Swelling of Stiff DNA in a Polydisperse Crowded Environment. J Am Chem Soc 2015, 137, 10970-8.Abstract
We investigate the conformations of DNA-like stiff chains, characterized by contour length (L) and persistence length (lp), in a variety of crowded environments containing monodisperse soft spherical (SS) and spherocylindrical (SC) particles, a mixture of SS and SC, and a milieu mimicking the composition of proteins in the Escherichia coli cytoplasm. The stiff chain, whose size modestly increases in SS crowders up to ϕ ≈ 0.1, is considerably more compact at low volume fractions (ϕ ≤ 0.2) in monodisperse SC particles than in a medium containing SS particles. A 1:1 mixture of SS and SC crowders induces greater chain compaction than the pure SS or SC crowders at the same ϕ, with the effect being highly nonadditive. We also discover a counterintuitive result that the polydisperse crowding environment, mimicking the composition of a cell lysate, swells the DNA-like polymer, which is in stark contrast to the size reduction of flexible polymers in the same milieu. Trapping of the stiff chain in a fluctuating tube-like environment created by large-sized crowders explains the dramatic increase in size and persistence length of the stiff chain. In the polydisperse medium, mimicking the cellular environment, the size of the DNA (or related RNA) is determined by L/lp. At low L/lp, the size of the polymer is unaffected, whereas there is a dramatic swelling at an intermediate value of L/lp. We use these results to provide insights into recent experiments on crowding effects on RNA and also make testable predictions.
Denesyuk, N. A. ; Thirumalai, D. How do metal ions direct ribozyme folding?. Nat Chem 2015, 7 793-801.Abstract
Ribozymes, which carry out phosphoryl-transfer reactions, often require Mg(2+) ions for catalytic activity. The correct folding of the active site and ribozyme tertiary structure is also regulated by metal ions in a manner that is not fully understood. Here we employ coarse-grained molecular simulations to show that individual structural elements of the group I ribozyme from the bacterium Azoarcus form spontaneously in the unfolded ribozyme even at very low Mg(2+) concentrations, and are transiently stabilized by the coordination of Mg(2+) ions to specific nucleotides. However, competition for scarce Mg(2+) and topological constraints that arise from chain connectivity prevent the complete folding of the ribozyme. A much higher Mg(2+) concentration is required for complete folding of the ribozyme and stabilization of the active site. When Mg(2+) is replaced by Ca(2+) the ribozyme folds, but the active site remains unstable. Our results suggest that group I ribozymes utilize the same interactions with specific metal ligands for both structural stability and chemical activity.
Kang, H. ; Yoon, Y. - G. ; Thirumalai, D. ; Hyeon, C. Confinement-Induced Glassy Dynamics in a Model for Chromosome Organization. Phys Rev Lett 2015, 115, 198102.Abstract
Recent experiments showing scaling of the intrachromosomal contact probability, P(s)∼s(-1) with the genomic distance s, are interpreted to mean a self-similar fractal-like chromosome organization. However, scaling of P(s) varies across organisms, requiring an explanation. We illustrate dynamical arrest in a highly confined space as a discriminating marker for genome organization, by modeling chromosomes inside a nucleus as a homopolymer confined to a sphere of varying sizes. Brownian dynamics simulations show that the chain dynamics slows down as the polymer volume fraction (ϕ) inside the confinement approaches a critical value ϕ(c). The universal value of ϕ(c)(∞)≈0.44 for a sufficiently long polymer (N≫1) allows us to discuss genome dynamics using ϕ as the sole parameter. Our study shows that the onset of glassy dynamics is the reason for the segregated chromosome organization in humans (N≈3×10(9), ϕ≳ϕ(c)(∞)), whereas chromosomes of budding yeast (N≈10(8), ϕ<ϕ(c)(∞)) are equilibrated with no clear signature of such organization.
Pincus, D. L. ; Chakrabarti, S. ; Thirumalai, D. Helicase processivity and not the unwinding velocity exhibits universal increase with force. Biophys J 2015, 109, 220-30.Abstract
Helicases, involved in a number of cellular functions, are motors that translocate along single-stranded nucleic acid and couple the motion to unwinding double-strands of a duplex nucleic acid. The junction between double- and single-strands creates a barrier to the movement of the helicase, which can be manipulated in vitro by applying mechanical forces directly on the nucleic acid strands. Single-molecule experiments have demonstrated that the unwinding velocities of some helicases increase dramatically with increase in the external force, while others show little response. In contrast, the unwinding processivity always increases when the force increases. The differing responses of the unwinding velocity and processivity to force have lacked explanation. By generalizing a previous model of processive unwinding by helicases, we provide a unified framework for understanding the dependence of velocity and processivity on force and the nucleic acid sequence. We predict that the sensitivity of unwinding processivity to external force is a universal feature that should be observed in all helicases. Our prediction is illustrated using T7 and NS3 helicases as case studies. Interestingly, the increase in unwinding processivity with force depends on whether the helicase forces basepair opening by direct interaction or if such a disruption occurs spontaneously due to thermal fluctuations. Based on the theoretical results, we propose that proteins like single-strand binding proteins associated with helicases in the replisome may have coevolved with helicases to increase the unwinding processivity even if the velocity remains unaffected.
Kang, H. ; Pincus, P. A. ; Hyeon, C. ; Thirumalai, D. Effects of macromolecular crowding on the collapse of biopolymers. Phys Rev Lett 2015, 114, 068303.Abstract

Experiments show that macromolecular crowding modestly reduces the size of intrinsically disordered proteins even at a volume fraction (ϕ) similar to that in the cytosol, whereas DNA undergoes a coil-to-globule transition at very small ϕ. We show using a combination of scaling arguments and simulations that the polymer size R̅(g)(ϕ) depends on x=R̅(g)(0)/D, where D is the ϕ-dependent distance between the crowders. If x≲O(1), there is only a small decrease in R̅(g)(ϕ) as ϕ increases. When x≫O(1), a cooperative coil-to-globule transition is induced. Our theory quantitatively explains a number of experiments.

PDF icon 334-effects_of_macromolecular_crowding_on_the_collapse_of_biopolymers.pdf
Reddy, G. ; Thirumalai, D. Dissecting Ubiquitin Folding Using the Self-Organized Polymer Model. J Phys Chem B 2015, 119, 11358-70.Abstract
Folding of Ubiquitin (Ub), a functionally important protein found in eukaryotic organisms, is investigated at low and neutral pH at different temperatures using simulations of the coarse-grained self-organized-polymer model with side chains (SOP-SC). The melting temperatures (Tm's), identified with the peaks in the heat capacity curves, decrease as pH decreases, in qualitative agreement with experiments. The calculated radius of gyration, showing dramatic variations with pH, is in excellent agreement with scattering experiments. At Tm, Ub folds in a two-state manner at low and neutral pH. Clustering analysis of the conformations sampled in equilibrium folding trajectories at Tm, with multiple transitions between the folded and unfolded states, shows a network of metastable states connecting the native and unfolded states. At low and neutral pH, Ub folds with high probability through a preferred set of conformations resulting in a pH-dependent dominant folding pathway. Folding kinetics reveal that Ub assembly at low pH occurs by multiple pathways involving a combination of nucleation-collapse and diffusion collision mechanism. The mechanism by which Ub folds is dictated by the stability of the key secondary structural elements responsible for establishing long-range contacts and collapse of Ub. Nucleation collapse mechanism holds if the stability of these elements are marginal, as would be the case at elevated temperatures. If the lifetimes associated with these structured microdomains are on the order of hundreds of microseconds, then Ub folding follows the diffusion-collision mechanism with intermediates, many of which coincide with those found in equilibrium. Folding at neutral pH is a sequential process with a populated intermediate resembling that sampled at equilibrium. The transition state structures, obtained using a Pfold analysis, are homogeneous and globular with most of the secondary and tertiary structures being native-like. Many of our findings for both the thermodynamics and kinetics of folding are not only in agreement with experiments but also provide missing details not resolvable in standard experiments. The key prediction that folding mechanism varies dramatically with pH is amenable to experimental tests.
Thirumalai, D. 48 Design principles governing the motility of myosin motors. J Biomol Struct Dyn 2015, 33 Suppl 1, 33.
Lin, J. - C. ; Yoon, J. ; Hyeon, C. ; Thirumalai, D. Using simulations and kinetic network models to reveal the dynamics and functions of riboswitches. Methods Enzymol 2015, 553, 235-58.Abstract
Riboswitches, RNA elements found in the untranslated region, regulate gene expression by binding to target metaboloites with exquisite specificity. Binding of metabolites to the conserved aptamer domain allosterically alters the conformation in the downstream expression platform. The fate of gene expression is determined by the changes in the downstream RNA sequence. As the metabolite-dependent cotranscriptional folding and unfolding dynamics of riboswitches are the key determinant of gene expression, it is important to investigate both the thermodynamics and kinetics of riboswitches both in the presence and absence of metabolite. Single molecule force experiments that decipher the free energy landscape of riboswitches from their mechanical responses, theoretical and computational studies have recently shed light on the distinct mechanism of folding dynamics in different classes of riboswitches. Here, we first discuss the dynamics of water around riboswitch, highlighting that water dynamics can enhance the fluctuation of nucleic acid structure. To go beyond native state fluctuations, we used the Self-Organized Polymer model to predict the dynamics of add adenine riboswitch under mechanical forces. In addition to quantitatively predicting the folding landscape of add-riboswitch, our simulations also explain the difference in the dynamics between pbuE adenine- and add adenine-riboswitches. In order to probe the function in vivo, we use the folding landscape to propose a system level kinetic network model to quantitatively predict how gene expression is regulated for riboswitches that are under kinetic control.
Qin, M. ; Wang, W. ; Thirumalai, D. Protein folding guides disulfide bond formation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2015, 112, 11241-11246.Abstract

The Anfinsen principle that the protein sequence uniquely determines its structure is based on experiments on oxidative refolding of a protein with disulfide bonds. The problem of how protein folding drives disulfide bond formation is poorly understood. Here, we have solved this long-standing problem by creating a general method for implementing the chemistry of disulfide bond formation and rupture in coarse-grained molecular simulations. As a case study, we investigate the oxidative folding of bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor (BPTI). After confirming the experimental findings that the multiple routes to the folded state contain a network of states dominated by native disulfides, we show that the entropically unfavorable native single disulfide [14-38] between Cys14 and Cys38 forms only after polypeptide chain collapse and complete structuring of the central core of the protein containing an antiparallel β-sheet. Subsequent assembly, resulting in native two-disulfide bonds and the folded state, involves substantial unfolding of the protein and transient population of nonnative structures. The rate of [14-38] formation increases as the β-sheet stability increases. The flux to the native state, through a network of kinetically connected native-like intermediates, changes dramatically by altering the redox conditions. Disulfide bond formation between Cys residues not present in the native state are relevant only on the time scale of collapse of BPTI. The finding that formation of specific collapsed native-like structures guides efficient folding is applicable to a broad class of single-domain proteins, including enzyme-catalyzed disulfide proteins.

Denesyuk, N. A. ; Thirumalai, D. How do metal ions direct ribozyme folding?. Nature Chem. 2015, 7 793–801. DOI:10.1038/nchem.2330Abstract

Ribozymes, which carry out phosphoryl-transfer reactions, often require Mg2+ ions for catalytic activity. The correct folding of the active site and ribozyme tertiary structure is also regulated by metal ions in a manner that is not fully understood. Here we employ coarse-grained molecular simulations to show that individual structural elements of the group I ribozyme from the bacterium Azoarcus form spontaneously in the unfolded ribozyme even at very low Mg2+ concentrations, and are transiently stabilized by the coordination of Mg2+ ions to specific nucleotides. However, competition for scarce Mg2+ and topological constraints that arise from chain connectivity prevent the complete folding of the ribozyme. A much higher Mg2+ concentration is required for complete folding of the ribozyme and stabilization of the active site. When Mg2+ is replaced by Ca2+ the ribozyme folds, but the active site remains unstable. Our results suggest that group I ribozymes utilize the same interactions with specific metal ligands for both structural stability and chemical activity.

Pages