The impact of molecular variants, crystallization conditions and space group on structure-ligand complexes: A case study on Bacterial Phosphotriesterase Variants and complexes

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While attempting to study the 3D structure of proteins with bound ligands, one often encounters considerable difficulties. We illustrate, as an example, the bacterial enzyme phosphotriesterase and specifically examine the effects of multiple factors such as the molecular constructs, ligands used during protein expression and purification, crystallization precipitance, and space group on the visualization of molecular complexes of organophosphate ligands bound to the enzyme.

We analyzed twelve crystal structures of the different phosphotriesterase constructs derived by directed evolution in both apo and holo forms (in complex with organophosphate analogs), with resolutions up to 1.38 Å. Crystals obtained from three different crystallization conditions, crystallized in four space groups, with and without N-terminal tags, were utilized to investigate the impact of these factors on visualizing molecular complexes of ligands bound to the enzyme. The study revealed that residual tags used for protein expression can lodge in the active site and hinder ligand binding. Additionally, the space groups in which the proteins are crystallized can significantly impact the visualization of the organophosphate ligands bound to the phosphotriesterase. The study also reveals that the crystallization precipitants can compete with and even preclude ligand binding, leading to false positives or the incorrect identification of lead drug candidates, which is particularly crucial for ligands with pharmacological and toxicological contexts.

Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the challenges and considerations involved in studying the 3D structure of proteins with bound ligands, highlighting the importance of careful experimental design and rigorous data analysis to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the resulting protein-ligand structures.

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