Proteins experience a wide variety of conformational dynamics that can be crucial for facilitating their diverse functions. How is the intrinsic flexibility required for these motions encoded in their three-dimensional structures? Here, the overall flexibility of a protein is demonstrated to be tightly coupled to the total amount of surface area buried within its fold. A simple proxy for this, the relative solvent-accessible surface area (Arel), therefore shows excellent agreement with independent measures of global protein flexibility derived from various experimental and computational methods. Application of Arel on a large scale demonstrates its utility by revealing unique sequence and structural properties associated with intrinsic flexibility. In particular, flexibility as measured by Arel shows little correspondence with intrinsic disorder, but instead tends to be associated with multiple domains and increased α-helical structure. Furthermore, the apparent flexibility of monomeric proteins is found to be useful for identifying quaternary-structure errors in published crystal structures. There is also a strong tendency for the crystal structures of more flexible proteins to be solved to lower resolutions. Finally, local solvent accessibility is shown to be a primary determinant of local residue flexibility. Overall, this work provides both fundamental mechanistic insight into the origin of protein flexibility and a simple, practical method for predicting flexibility from protein structures.
- Molecular Dynamics Simulation
- Molecular Weight
- Protein Folding
- Protein Structure, Secondary
- Protein Structure, Tertiary