The extracellular signal–regulated kinase (ERK) controls multiple critical processes in the cell and is deregulated in human cancers, congenital abnormalities, immune diseases, and neurodevelopmental syndromes. Catalytic activity of ERK requires dual phosphorylation by an upstream kinase, in a mechanism that can be described by two sequential Michaelis-Menten steps. The estimation of individual reaction rate constants from kinetic data in the full mechanism has proved challenging. Here, we present an analytically tractable approach to parameter estimation that is based on the phase plane representation of ERK activation and yields two combinations of six reaction rate constants in the detailed mechanism. These combinations correspond to the ratio of the specificities of two consecutive phosphorylations and the probability that monophosphorylated substrate does not dissociate from the enzyme before the second phosphorylation. The presented approach offers a language for comparing the effects of mutations that disrupt ERK activation and function in vivo. As an illustration, we use phase plane representation to analyze dual phosphorylation under heterozygous conditions, when two enzyme variants compete for the same substrate.
Human biology is rooted in highly specialized cell types programmed by a common genome, 98% of which is outside of genes. Genetic variation in the enormous noncoding space is linked to the majority of disease risk. To address the problem of linking these variants to expression changes in primary human cells, we introduce ExPectoSC, an atlas of modular deep-learning-based models for predicting cell-type-specific gene expression directly from sequence. We provide models for 105 primary human cell types covering 7 organ systems, demonstrate their accuracy, and then apply them to prioritize relevant cell types for complex human diseases. The resulting atlas of sequence-based gene expression and variant effects is publicly available in a user-friendly interface and readily extensible to any primary cell types. We demonstrate the accuracy of our approach through systematic evaluations and apply the models to prioritize ClinVar clinical variants of uncertain significance, verifying our top predictions experimentally.
Conformational heterogeneity and probability distributions from single-particle cryo-electron microscopy
Single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is a technique that takes projection images of biomolecules frozen at cryogenic temperatures. A major advantage of this technique is its ability to image single biomolecules in heterogeneous conformations. While this poses a challenge for data analysis, recent algorithmic advances have enabled the recovery of heterogeneous conformations from the noisy imaging data. Here, we review methods for the reconstruction and heterogeneity analysis of cryo-EM images, ranging from linear-transformation-based methods to nonlinear deep generative models. We overview the dimensionality-reduction techniques used in heterogeneous 3D reconstruction methods and specify what information each method can infer from the data. Then, we review the methods that use cryo-EM images to estimate probability distributions over conformations in reduced subspaces or predefined by atomistic simulations. We conclude with the ongoing challenges for the cryo-EM community.
Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has recently become a leading method for obtaining high-resolution structures of biological macromolecules. However, cryo-EM is limited to biomolecular samples with low conformational heterogeneity, where most conformations can be well-sampled at various projection angles. While cryo-EM provides single-molecule data for heterogeneous molecules, most existing reconstruction tools cannot retrieve the ensemble distribution of possible molecular conformations from these data. To overcome these limitations, we build on a previous Bayesian approach and develop an ensemble refinement framework that estimates the ensemble density from a set of cryo-EM particle images by reweighting a prior conformational ensemble, e.g., from molecular dynamics simulations or structure prediction tools. Our work provides a general approach to recovering the equilibrium probability density of the biomolecule directly in conformational space from single-molecule data. To validate the framework, we study the extraction of state populations and free energies for a simple toy model and from synthetic cryo-EM particle images of a simulated protein that explores multiple folded and unfolded conformations.
Resolving chromatin remodeling-linked gene expression changes at cell type resolution is important for understanding disease states. We describe MAGICAL, a hierarchical Bayesian approach that leverages paired scRNA-seq and scATAC-seq data from different conditions to map disease-associated transcription factors, chromatin sites, and genes as regulatory circuits. By simultaneously modeling signal variation across cells and conditions in both omics data types, MAGICAL achieved high accuracy on circuit inference. We applied MAGICAL to study Staphylococcus aureus sepsis from peripheral blood mononuclear single-cell data that we generated from infected subjects with bloodstream infection and from uninfected controls. MAGICAL identified sepsis-associated regulatory circuits predominantly in CD14 monocytes, known to be activated by bacterial sepsis. We addressed the challenging problem of distinguishing host regulatory circuit responses to methicillin-resistant-(MRSA) and methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) infections. While differential expression analysis failed to show predictive value, MAGICAL identified epigenetic circuit biomarkers that distinguished MRSA from MSSA.
Cultured Renal Proximal Tubular Epithelial Cells Resemble a Stressed/Damaged Kidney While Supporting BK Virus Infection
BK virus (BKV; human polyomavirus 1) infections are asymptomatic in most individuals, and the virus persists throughout life without harm. However, BKV is a threat to transplant patients and those with immunosuppressive disorders. Under these circumstances, the virus can replicate robustly in proximal tubule epithelial cells (PT). Cultured renal proximal tubule epithelial cells (RPTE) are permissive to BKV and have been used extensively to characterize different aspects of BKV infection. Recently, lines of hTERT-immortalized RPTE have become available, and preliminary studies indicate they support BKV infection as well. Our results indicate that BKV infection leads to a similar response in primary and immortalized RPTE. In addition, we examined the patterns of global gene expression of primary and immortalized RPTE and compared them with uncultured PT freshly dissociated from human kidney. As expected, PT isolated from the healthy kidney express a number of differentiation-specific genes that are associated with kidney function. However, the expression of most of these genes is absent or repressed in cultured RPTE. Rather, cultured RPTE exhibit a gene expression profile indicative of a stressed or injured kidney. Inoculation of cultured RPTE with BKV results in the suppression of many genes associated with kidney stress. In summary, this study demonstrated similar global gene expression patterns and responses to BKV infection between primary and immortalized RPTE. Moreover, results from bulk transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) and SCT experiments revealed distinct transcriptomic signatures representing cell injury and stress in primary RPTE in contrast to the uncultured, freshly dissociated PT from human kidney.
DNA methylation comprises a cumulative record of lifetime exposures superimposed on genetically determined markers. Little is known about methylation dynamics in humans following an acute perturbation, such as infection. We characterized the temporal trajectory of blood epigenetic remodeling in 133 participants in a prospective study of young adults before, during, and after asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. The differential methylation caused by asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections was indistinguishable. While differential gene expression largely returned to baseline levels after the virus became undetectable, some differentially methylated sites persisted for months of follow-up, with a pattern resembling autoimmune or inflammatory disease. We leveraged these responses to construct methylation-based machine learning models that distinguished samples from pre-, during-, and postinfection time periods, and quantitatively predicted the time since infection. The clinical trajectory in the young adults and in a diverse cohort with more severe outcomes was predicted by the similarity of methylation before or early after SARS-CoV-2 infection to the model-defined postinfection state. Unlike the phenomenon of trained immunity, the postacute SARS-CoV-2 epigenetic landscape we identify is antiprotective.
Living systems are intrinsically nonequilibrium: They use metabolically derived chemical energy to power their emergent dynamics and self-organization. A crucial driver of these dynamics is the cellular cytoskeleton, a defining example of an active material where the energy injected by molecular motors cascades across length scales, allowing the material to break the constraints of thermodynamic equilibrium and display emergent nonequilibrium dynamics only possible due to the constant influx of energy. Notwithstanding recent experimental advances in the use of local probes to quantify entropy production and the breaking of detailed balance, little is known about the energetics of active materials or how energy propagates from the molecular to emergent length scales. Here, we use a recently developed picowatt calorimeter to experimentally measure the energetics of an active microtubule gel that displays emergent large-scale flows. We find that only approximately one-billionth of the system’s total energy consumption contributes to these emergent flows. We develop a chemical kinetics model that quantitatively captures how the system’s total thermal dissipation varies with ATP and microtubule concentrations but that breaks down at high motor concentration, signaling an interference between motors. Finally, we estimate how energy losses accumulate across scales. Taken together, these results highlight energetic efficiency as a key consideration for the engineering of active materials and are a powerful step toward developing a nonequilibrium thermodynamics of living systems.
Lipid molecules such as cholesterol interact with the surface of integral membrane proteins (IMP) in a mode different from drug-like molecules in a protein binding pocket. These differences are due to the lipid molecule’s shape, the membrane’s hydrophobic environment, and the lipid’s orientation in the membrane. We can use the recent increase in experimental structures in complex with cholesterol to understand protein-cholesterol interactions. We developed the RosettaCholesterol protocol consisting of (1) a prediction phase using an energy grid to sample and score native-like binding poses and (2) a specificity filter to calculate the likelihood that a cholesterol interaction site may be specific. We used a multi-pronged benchmark (self-dock, flip-dock, cross-dock, and global-dock) of protein-cholesterol complexes to validate our method. RosettaCholesterol improved sampling and scoring of native poses over the standard RosettaLigand baseline method in 91% of cases and performs better regardless of benchmark complexity. On the β2AR, our method found one likely-specific site, which is described in the literature. The RosettaCholesterol protocol quantifies cholesterol binding site specificity. Our approach provides a starting point for high-throughput modeling and prediction of cholesterol binding sites for further experimental validation.
Transmembrane helix folding and self-association play important roles in biological signaling and transportation pathways across biomembranes. With molecular simulations, studies to explore the structural biochemistry of this process have been limited to focusing on individual fragments of this process – either helix formation or dimerization. While at an atomistic resolution, it can be prohibitive to access long spatio-temporal scales, at the coarse grained (CG) level, current methods either employ additional constraints to prevent spontaneous unfolding or have a low resolution on sidechain beads that restricts the study of dimer disruption caused by mutations. To address these research gaps, in this work, we apply our recent, in-house developed CG model (ProMPT) to study the folding and dimerization of Glycophorin A (GpA) and its mutants in the presence of Dodecyl-phosphocholine (DPC) micelles. Our results first validate the two-stage model that folding and dimerization are independent events for transmembrane helices and found a positive correlation between helix folding and DPC-peptide contacts. The wild type (WT) GpA is observed to be a right-handed dimer with specific GxxxG contacts, which agrees with experimental findings. Specific point mutations reveal several features responsible for the structural stability of GpA. While the T87L mutant forms anti-parallel dimers due to an absence of T87 interhelical hydrogen bonds, a slight loss in helicity and a hinge-like feature at the GxxxG region develops for the G79L mutant. We note that the local changes in the hydrophobic environment, affected by the point mutation, contribute to the development of this helical bend. This work presents a holistic overview of the structural stability of GpA in a micellar environment, while taking secondary structural fluctuations into account. Moreover, it presents opportunities for applications of computationally efficient CG models to study conformational alterations of transmembrane proteins that have physiological relevance.
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