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  1. Cholesterol is an integral component of eukaryotic cell membranes and a key molecule in controlling membrane fluidity, organization, and other physicochemical parameters. It also plays a regulatory function in antibiotic drug resistance and the immune response of cells against viruses, by stabilizing the membrane against structural damage. While it is well understood that, structurally, cholesterol exhibits a densification effect on fluid lipid membranes, its effects on membrane bending rigidity are assumed to be nonuniversal; i.e., cholesterol stiffens saturated lipid membranes, but has no stiffening effect on membranes populated by unsaturated lipids, such as 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DOPC). This observation presents a clear challenge to structure–property relationships and to our understanding of cholesterol-mediated biological functions. Here, using a comprehensive approach—combining neutron spin-echo (NSE) spectroscopy, solid-state deuterium NMR (2H NMR) spectroscopy, and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations—we report that cholesterol locally increases the bending rigidity of DOPC membranes, similar to saturated membranes, by increasing the bilayer’s packing density. All three techniques, inherently sensitive to mesoscale bending fluctuations, show up to a threefold increase in effective bending rigidity with increasing cholesterol content approaching a mole fraction of 50%. Our observations are in good agreement with the known effects of cholesterol on the area-compressibility modulus and membrane structure, reaffirming membrane structure–property relationships. The current findings point to a scale-dependent manifestation of membrane properties, highlighting the need to reassess cholesterol’s role in controlling membrane bending rigidity over mesoscopic length and time scales of important biological functions, such as viral budding and lipid–protein interactions.

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  2. Abstract

    Predicting the range of substrates accepted by an enzyme from its amino acid sequence is challenging. Although sequence‐ and structure‐based annotation approaches are often accurate for predicting broad categories of substrate specificity, they generally cannot predict which specific molecules will be accepted as substrates for a given enzyme, particularly within a class of closely related molecules. Combining targeted experimental activity data with structural modeling, ligand docking, and physicochemical properties of proteins and ligands with various machine learning models provides complementary information that can lead to accurate predictions of substrate scope for related enzymes. Here we describe such an approach that can predict the substrate scope of bacterial nitrilases, which catalyze the hydrolysis of nitrile compounds to the corresponding carboxylic acids and ammonia. Each of the four machine learning models (logistic regression, random forest, gradient‐boosted decision trees, and support vector machines) performed similarly (average ROC = 0.9, average accuracy = ~82%) for predicting substrate scope for this dataset, although random forest offers some advantages. This approach is intended to be highly modular with respect to physicochemical property calculations and software used for structural modeling and docking.

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  3. Abstract

    Bacteriophage T4 lysozyme (T4L) has been used as a paradigm for seminal biophysical studies on protein structure, dynamics, and stability. Approximately 700 mutants of this protein and their respective complexes have been characterized by X‐ray crystallography; however, despite the high resolution diffraction limits attained in several studies, no hydrogen atoms were reported being visualized in the electron density maps. To address this, a 2.2 Å‐resolution neutron data set was collected at 80 K from a crystal of perdeuterated T4L pseudo‐wild type. We describe a near complete atomic structure of T4L, which includes the positions of 1737 hydrogen atoms determined by neutron crystallography. The cryogenic neutron model reveals explicit detail of the hydrogen bonding interactions in the protein, in addition to the protonation states of several important residues.

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