Cyrus Scientist Amanda Duran contributes to molecular models studying the mechanisms of mutations in KCNQ1

Abstract: Mutations that induce loss of function (LOF) or dysfunction of the human KCNQ1 channel are responsible for susceptibility to a life-threatening heart rhythm disorder, the congenital long QT syndrome (LQTS). Hundreds of KCNQ1 mutations have been identified, but the molecular mechanisms responsible for impaired function are poorly understood. We investigated the impact of 51 KCNQ1 variants with mutations located within the voltage sensor domain (VSD), with an emphasis on elucidating effects on cell surface expression, protein folding, and structure. For each variant, the efficiency of trafficking to the plasma membrane, the impact of proteasome inhibition, and protein stability were assayed. The results of these experiments combined with channel functional data provided the basis for classifying each mutation into one of six mechanistic categories, highlighting heterogeneity in the mechanisms resulting in channel dysfunction or LOF. More than half of the KCNQ1 LOF mutations examined were seen to destabilize the structure of the VSD, generally accompanied by mistrafficking and degradation by the proteasome, an observation that underscores the growing appreciation that mutation-induced destabilization of membrane proteins may be a common human disease mechanism. Finally, we observed that five of the folding-defective LQTS mutant sites are located in the VSD S0 helix, where they interact with a number of other LOF mutation sites in other segments of the VSD. These observations reveal a critical role for the S0 helix as a central scaffold to help organize and stabilize the KCNQ1 VSD and, most likely, the corresponding domain of many other ion channels.

(Science Advances  07 Mar 2018: Vol. 4, no. 3, eaar2631)

Yifan Song, Cyrus’ Chief Science Officer, contributes development to major aspects of Rosetta code for de novo design of hyperstable constrained peptides published in Nature

Article Abstract: Naturally occurring, pharmacologically active peptides constrained with covalent crosslinks generally have shapes that have evolved to fit precisely into binding pockets on their targets. Such peptides can have excellent pharmaceutical properties, combining the stability and tissue penetration of small-molecule drugs with the specificity of much larger protein therapeutics. The ability to design constrained peptides with precisely specified tertiary structures would enable the design of shape-complementary inhibitors of arbitrary targets. Here we describe the development of computational methods for accurate de novo design of conformationally restricted peptides, and the use of these methods to design 18–47 residue, disulfide-crosslinked peptides, a subset of which are heterochiral and/or N–C backbone-cyclized. Both genetically encodable and non-canonical peptides are exceptionally stable to thermal and chemical denaturation, and 12 experimentally determined X-ray and NMR structures are nearly identical to the computational design models. The computational design methods and stable scaffolds presented here provide the basis for development of a new generation of peptide-based drugs.

(Nature, vol. 538, p. 329-335, 2016)


Cyrus Scientist Brandon Frenz contributes to the cryo-electron microscopy structure of a coronavirus spike protein

Abstract: The tremendous pandemic potential of coronaviruses was demonstrated twice in the past few decades by two global outbreaks of deadly pneumonia. Entry of coronaviruses into cells is mediated by the transmembrane spike glycoprotein S, which forms a trimer carrying receptor-binding and membrane fusion functions. S also contains the principal antigenic determinants and is the target of neutralizing antibodies. Here we present the structure of a mouse coronavirus S trimer ectodomain determined at 4.0 Å resolution by single particle cryo-electron microscopy. It reveals the metastable pre-fusion architecture of S and highlights key interactions stabilizing it. The structure shares a common core with paramyxovirus F proteins, implicating mechanistic similarities and an evolutionary connection between these viral fusion proteins. The accessibility of the highly conserved fusion peptide at the periphery of the trimer indicates potential vaccinology strategies to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against coronaviruses. Finally, comparison with crystal structures of human coronavirus S domains allows rationalization of the molecular basis for species specificity based on the use of spatially contiguous but distinct domains.

(Nature Volume 531, 114–117 (2016))

Yifan Song, Cyrus’ Chief Science Officer, publishes work on improved cryo-electron-microscopy protein structures using Rosetta software in Nature Methods.

Article Abstract: We describe a general approach for refining protein structure models on the basis of cryo-electron microscopy maps with near-atomic resolution. The method integrates Monte Carlo sampling with local density-guided optimization, Rosetta all-atom refinement and real-space B-factor fitting. In tests on experimental maps of three different systems with 4.5-Å resolution or better, the method consistently produced models with atomic-level accuracy largely independently of starting-model quality, and it outperformed the molecular dynamics–based MDFF method. Cross-validated model quality statistics correlated with model accuracy over the three test systems. (Nature Methods, vol. 12, p. 361, 2015).

Cyrus’ CSO Yifan Song uses electrostatics computation to understand ion pump mechanisms


Changing a few residues can change the function of homologous proteins. The chloride and proton affinity in the inward chloride-pumping halorhodopsin (HR) and outward proton-pumping bacteriorhodopsin (BR) are compared using classical electrostatic simulations. BR binds and releases protons from acidic residues that have been removed from HR. In the states where these acids are ionized in BR, HR binds a chloride. In the states where these acids bind a proton in BR, HR releases the chloride. Thus, BR uses static anions and mobile protons, whereas HR uses mobile ions to maintain the same charge states. The use of mobile ions makes HR more sensitive to external conditions.

Full Text Article in PNAS