Predicting Optimal DEER Label Positions to Study Protein Conformational Heterogeneity

Shriyaa Mittal, Diwakar Shukla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Double electron-electron resonance (DEER) spectroscopy is a powerful experimental technique for understanding the conformational heterogeneity of proteins. It involves attaching nitroxide spin labels to two residues in the protein to obtain a distance distribution between them. However, the choice of residue pairs to label in the protein requires careful thought, as experimentalists must pick label positions from a large set of all possible residue-pair combinations in the protein. In this article, we address the problem of the choice of DEER spin-label positions in a protein. For this purpose, we utilize all-atom molecular dynamics simulations of protein dynamics, to rank the sets of labeled residue pairs in terms of their ability to capture the conformational dynamics of the protein. Our design methodology is based on the following two criteria: (1) An ideal set of DEER spin-label positions should capture the slowest conformational-change processes observed in the protein dynamics, and (2) any two sets of residue pairs should describe orthogonal conformational-change processes to maximize the overall information gain and reduce the number of labeled residue pairs. We utilize Markov state models of protein dynamics to identify slow dynamical processes and a genetic-algorithm-based approach to predict the optimal choices of residue pairs with limited computational time requirements. We predict the optimal residue pairs for DEER spectroscopy in β2 adrenergic receptor, the C-terminal domain of calmodulin, and peptide transporter PepTSo. We find that our choices were ranked higher than those used to perform DEER experiments on the proteins investigated in this study. Hence, the predicted choices of DEER residue pairs determined by our method provide maximum insight into the conformational heterogeneity of the protein while using the minimum number of labeled residues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9761-9770
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 26 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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