Improved modeling of side-chains in proteins with rotamer-based methods: A flexible rotamer model

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Side-chain modeling has a widespread application in many current methods for protein tertiary structure determination, prediction, and design. Of the existing side-chain modeling methods, rotamer-based methods are the fastest and most efficient. Classically, a rotamer is conceived as a single, rigid conformation of an amino acid side-chain. Here, we present a flexible rotamer model in which a rotamer is a continuous ensemble of conformations that cluster around the classic rigid rotamer. We have developed a thermodynamically based method for calculating effective energies for the flexible rotamer. These energies have a one-to-one correspondence with the potential energies of the rigid rotamer. Therefore, the flexible rotamer model is completely general and may be used with any rotamer-based method in substitution of the rigid rotamer model. We have compared the performance of the flexible and rigid rotamer models with one side-chain modeling method in particular (the self-consistent mean field theory method) on a set of 20 high quality crystallographic protein structures. For the flexible rotamer model, we obtained average predictions of 85.8% for χ1, 76.5% for χ1+2 and 1.34 Å for root-mean-square deviation (RMSD); the corresponding values for core residues were 93.0%, 87.7% and 0.70 Å, respectively. These values represent improvements of 7.3% for χ1, 8.1% for χ1+2 and 0.23 Å for RMSD over the predictions obtained with the rigid rotamer model under otherwise identical conditions; the corresponding improvements for core residues were 6.9%, 10.5% and 0.43 Å, respectively. We found that the predictions obtained with the flexible rotamer model were also significantly better than those obtained for the same set of proteins with another state- of-the-art side-chain placement method in the literature, especially for core residues. The flexible rotamer model represents a considerable improvement over the classic rigid rotamer model. It can, therefore, be used with considerable advantage in all rotamer-based methods commonly applied to protein tertiary structure determination, prediction, and design and also in predictions of free energies in mutational studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)530-543
Number of pages14
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1999


  • Effective rotamer energy
  • Flexible rotamer model
  • Kirkwood superposition approximation
  • Protein design
  • Side-chain modeling


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