Protein structure refinement using a quantum mechanics-based chemical shielding predictor†
The accurate prediction of protein chemical shifts using a quantum mechanics (QM)-based method has been the subject of intense research for more than 20 years but so far empirical methods for chemical shift prediction have proven more accurate. In this paper we show that a QM-based predictor of a protein backbone and CB chemical shifts (ProCS15, PeerJ, 2016, 3, e1344) is of comparable accuracy to empirical chemical shift predictors after chemical shift-based structural refinement that removes small structural errors. We present a method by which quantum chemistry based predictions of isotropic chemical shielding values (ProCS15) can be used to refine protein structures using Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) simulations, relating the chemical shielding values to the experimental chemical shifts probabilistically. Two kinds of MCMC structural refinement simulations were performed using force field geometry optimized X-ray structures as starting points: simulated annealing of the starting structure and constant temperature MCMC simulation followed by simulated annealing of a representative ensemble structure. Annealing of the CHARMM structure changes the CA-RMSD by an average of 0.4 Å but lowers the chemical shift RMSD by 1.0 and 0.7 ppm for CA and N. Conformational averaging has a relatively small effect (0.1–0.2 ppm) on the overall agreement with carbon chemical shifts but lowers the error for nitrogen chemical shifts by 0.4 ppm. If an amino acid specific offset is included the ProCS15 predicted chemical shifts have RMSD values relative to experiments that are comparable to popular empirical chemical shift predictors. The annealed representative ensemble structures differ in CA-RMSD relative to the initial structures by an average of 2.0 Å, with >2.0 Å difference for six proteins. In four of the cases, the largest structural differences arise in structurally flexible regions of the protein as determined by NMR, and in the remaining two cases, the large structural change may be due to force field deficiencies. The overall accuracy of the empirical methods are slightly improved by annealing the CHARMM structure with ProCS15, which may suggest that the minor structural changes introduced by ProCS15-based annealing improves the accuracy of the protein structures. Having established that QM-based chemical shift prediction can deliver the same accuracy as empirical shift predictors we hope this can help increase the accuracy of related approaches such as QM/MM or linear scaling approaches or interpreting protein structural dynamics from QM-derived chemical shift.