Conformer Selection and Induced Fit in Flexible Backbone Protein-Protein Docking Using Computational and NMR Ensembles

Sidhartha Chaudhury, Jeffrey J. Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Accommodating backbone flexibility continues to be the most difficult challenge in computational docking of protein-protein complexes. Towards that end, we simulate four distinct biophysical models of protein binding in RosettaDock, a multiscale Monte-Carlo-based algorithm that uses a quasi-kinetic search process to emulate the diffusional encounter of two proteins and to identify low-energy complexes. The four binding models are as follows: (1) key-lock (KL) model, using rigid-backbone docking; (2) conformer selection (CS) model, using a novel ensemble docking algorithm; (3) induced fit (IF) model, using energy-gradient-based backbone minimization; and (4) combined conformer selection/induced fit (CS/IF) model. Backbone flexibility was limited to the smaller partner of the complex, structural ensembles were generated using Rosetta refinement methods, and docking consisted of local perturbations around the complexed conformation using unbound component crystal structures for a set of 21 target complexes. The lowest-energy structure contained > 30% of the native residue-residue contacts for 9, 13, 13, and 14 targets for KL, CS, IF, and CS/IF docking, respectively. When applied to 15 targets using nuclear magnetic resonance ensembles of the smaller protein, the lowest-energy structure recovered at least 30% native residue contacts in 3, 8, 4, and 8 targets for KL, CS, IF, and CS/IF docking, respectively. CS/IF docking of the nuclear magnetic resonance ensemble performed equally well or better than KL docking with the unbound crystal structure in 10 of 15 cases. The marked success of CS and CS/IF docking shows that ensemble docking can be a versatile and effective method for accommodating conformational plasticity in docking and serves as a demonstration for the CS theory-that binding-competent conformers exist in the unbound ensemble and can be selected based on their favorable binding energies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1068-1087
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of molecular biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 12 2008



  • NMR ensembles
  • conformer selection
  • ensemble docking
  • flexible docking
  • protein-protein docking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology

Cite this