Statistical analysis of crystallization database links protein physico-chemical features with crystallization mechanisms.


X-ray crystallography is the predominant method for obtaining atomic-scale information about biological macromolecules. Despite the success of the technique, obtaining well diffracting crystals still critically limits going from protein to structure. In practice, the crystallization process proceeds through knowledge-informed empiricism. Better physico-chemical understanding remains elusive because of the large number of variables involved, hence little guidance is available to systematically identify solution conditions that promote crystallization. To help determine relationships between macromolecular properties and their crystallization propensity, we have trained statistical models on samples for 182 proteins supplied by the Northeast Structural Genomics consortium. Gaussian processes, which capture trends beyond the reach of linear statistical models, distinguish between two main physico-chemical mechanisms driving crystallization. One is characterized by low levels of side chain entropy and has been extensively reported in the literature. The other identifies specific electrostatic interactions not previously described in the crystallization context. Because evidence for two distinct mechanisms can be gleaned both from crystal contacts and from solution conditions leading to successful crystallization, the model offers future avenues for optimizing crystallization screens based on partial structural information. The availability of crystallization data coupled with structural outcomes analyzed through state-of-the-art statistical models may thus guide macromolecular crystallization toward a more rational basis.





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Publication Info

Fusco, Diana, Timothy J Barnum, Andrew E Bruno, Joseph R Luft, Edward H Snell, Sayan Mukherjee and Patrick Charbonneau (2014). Statistical analysis of crystallization database links protein physico-chemical features with crystallization mechanisms. PLoS One, 9(7). p. e101123. 10.1371/journal.pone.0101123 Retrieved from

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Patrick Charbonneau

Professor of Chemistry

Professor Charbonneau studies soft matter. His work combines theory and simulation to understand the glass problem, protein crystallization, microphase formation, and colloidal assembly in external fields.

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