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Preview: Acta Crystallographica Section D

Acta Crystallographica Section D

Acta Crystallographica Section D: Biological Crystallography welcomes the submission of articles covering any aspect of structural biology, with a particular emphasis on the structures of biological macromolecules and the methods used to determine them. R

Published: 2017-10-01


Conformational dynamics of the essential sensor histidine kinase WalK


Two-component systems (TCSs) are key elements in bacterial signal transduction in response to environmental stresses. TCSs generally consist of sensor histidine kinases (SKs) and their cognate response regulators (RRs). Many SKs exhibit autokinase, phosphoryltransferase and phosphatase activities, which regulate RR activity through a phosphorylation and dephosphorylation cycle. However, how SKs perform different enzymatic activities is poorly understood. Here, several crystal structures of the minimal catalytic region of WalK, an essential SK from Lactobacillus plantarum that shares 60% sequence identity with its homologue VicK from Streptococcus mutans, are presented. WalK adopts an asymmetrical closed structure in the presence of ATP or ADP, in which one of the CA domains is positioned close to the DHp domain, thus leading both the β- and γ-phosphates of ATP/ADP to form hydrogen bonds to the ∊- but not the δ-nitrogen of the phosphorylatable histidine in the DHp domain. In addition, the DHp domain in the ATP/ADP-bound state has a 25.7° asymmetrical helical bending coordinated with the repositioning of the CA domain; these processes are mutually exclusive and alternate in response to helicity changes that are possibly regulated by upstream signals. In the absence of ATP or ADP, however, WalK adopts a completely symmetric open structure with its DHp domain centred between two outward-reaching CA domains. In summary, these structures of WalK reveal the intrinsic dynamic properties of an SK structure as a molecular basis for multifunctionality.

Introducing site-specific cysteines into nanobodies for mercury labelling allows de novo phasing of their crystal structures


The generation of high-quality protein crystals and the loss of phase information during an X-ray crystallography diffraction experiment represent the major bottlenecks in the determination of novel protein structures. A generic method for introducing Hg atoms into any crystal independent of the presence of free cysteines in the target protein could considerably facilitate the process of obtaining unbiased experimental phases. Nanobodies (single-domain antibodies) have recently been shown to promote the crystallization and structure determination of flexible proteins and complexes. To extend the usability of nanobodies for crystallographic work, variants of the Nb36 nanobody with a single free cysteine at one of four framework-residue positions were developed. These cysteines could be labelled with fluorophores or Hg. For one cysteine variant (Nb36-C85) two nanobody structures were experimentally phased using single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) and single isomorphous replacement with anomalous signal (SIRAS), taking advantage of radiation-induced changes in Cys–Hg bonding. Importantly, Hg labelling influenced neither the interaction of Nb36 with its antigen complement C5 nor its structure. The results suggest that Cys–Hg-labelled nanobodies may become efficient tools for obtaining de novo phase information during the structure determination of nanobody–protein complexes.

Structure of the conserved Francisella virulence protein FvfA


Francisella tularensis is a potent human pathogen that invades and survives in macrophage and epithelial cells. Two identical proteins, FTT_0924 from F. tularensis subsp. tularensis and FTL_1286 from F. tularensis subsp. holarctica LVS, have previously been identified as playing a role in protection of the bacteria from osmotic shock and its survival in macrophages. FTT_0924 has been shown to localize to the inner membrane, with its C-terminus exposed to the periplasm. Here, crystal structures of the F. novicida homologue FTN_0802, which we call FvfA, in two crystal forms are reported at 1.8 Å resolution. FvfA differs from FTT_0924 and FTL_1286 by a single amino acid. FvfA has a DUF1471 fold that closely resembles the Escherichia coli outer membrane lipoprotein RscF, a component of a phosphorelay pathway involved in protecting bacteria from outer membrane perturbation. The structural and functional similarities and differences between these proteins and their implications for F. tularensis pathogenesis are discussed.

X-ray and EM structures of a natively glycosylated HIV-1 envelope trimer


The structural and biochemical characterization of broadly neutralizing anti-HIV-1 antibodies (bNAbs) has been essential in guiding the design of potential vaccines to prevent infection by HIV-1. While these studies have revealed critical mechanisms by which bNAbs recognize and/or accommodate N-glycans on the trimeric envelope glycoprotein (Env), they have been limited to the visualization of high-mannose glycan forms only, since heterogeneity introduced from the presence of complex glycans makes it difficult to obtain high-resolution structures. 3.5 and 3.9 Å resolution crystal structures of the HIV-1 Env trimer with fully processed and native glycosylation were solved, revealing a glycan shield of high-mannose and complex-type N-glycans that were used to define the complete epitopes of two bNAbs. Here, the refinement of the N-glycans in the crystal structures is discussed and comparisons are made with glycan densities in glycosylated Env structures derived by single-particle cryo-electron microscopy.

Towards a compact and precise sample holder for macromolecular crystallography


Most of the sample holders currently used in macromolecular crystallography offer limited storage density and poor initial crystal-positioning precision upon mounting on a goniometer. This has now become a limiting factor at high-throughput beamlines, where data collection can be performed in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, this lack of precision limits the potential benefits emerging from automated harvesting systems that could provide crystal-position information which would further enhance alignment at beamlines. This situation provided the motivation for the development of a compact and precise sample holder with corresponding pucks, handling tools and robotic transfer protocols. The development process included four main phases: design, prototype manufacture, testing with a robotic sample changer and validation under real conditions on a beamline. Two sample-holder designs are proposed: NewPin and miniSPINE. They share the same robot gripper and allow the storage of 36 sample holders in uni-puck footprint-style pucks, which represents 252 samples in a dry-shipping dewar commonly used in the field. The pucks are identified with human- and machine-readable codes, as well as with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. NewPin offers a crystal-repositioning precision of up to 10 µm but requires a specific goniometer socket. The storage density could reach 64 samples using a special puck designed for fully robotic handling. miniSPINE is less precise but uses a goniometer mount compatible with the current SPINE standard. miniSPINE is proposed for the first implementation of the new standard, since it is easier to integrate at beamlines. An upgraded version of the SPINE sample holder with a corresponding puck named SPINEplus is also proposed in order to offer a homogenous and interoperable system. The project involved several European synchrotrons and industrial companies in the fields of consumables and sample-changer robotics. Manual handling of miniSPINE was tested at different institutes using evaluation kits, and pilot beamlines are being equipped with compatible robotics for large-scale evaluation. A companion paper describes a new sample changer FlexED8 (Papp et al., 2017, Acta Cryst., D73, 841–851).

FlexED8: the first member of a fast and flexible sample-changer family for macromolecular crystallography


Automated sample changers are now standard equipment for modern macromolecular crystallography synchrotron beamlines. Nevertheless, most are only compatible with a single type of sample holder and puck. Recent work aimed at reducing sample-handling efforts and crystal-alignment times at beamlines has resulted in a new generation of compact and precise sample holders for cryocrystallography: miniSPINE and NewPin [see the companion paper by Papp et al. (2017, Acta Cryst., D73, 829–840)]. With full data collection now possible within seconds at most advanced beamlines, and future fourth-generation synchrotron sources promising to extract data in a few tens of milliseconds, the time taken to mount and centre a sample is rate-limiting. In this context, a versatile and fast sample changer, FlexED8, has been developed that is compatible with the highly successful SPINE sample holder and with the miniSPINE and NewPin sample holders. Based on a six-axis industrial robot, FlexED8 is equipped with a tool changer and includes a novel open sample-storage dewar with a built-in ice-filtering system. With seven versatile puck slots, it can hold up to 112 SPINE sample holders in uni-pucks, or 252 miniSPINE or NewPin sample holders, with 36 samples per puck. Additionally, a double gripper, compatible with the SPINE sample holders and uni-pucks, allows a reduction in the sample-exchange time from 40 s, the typical time with a standard single gripper, to less than 5 s. Computer vision-based sample-transfer monitoring, sophisticated error handling and automatic error-recovery procedures ensure high reliability. The FlexED8 sample changer has been successfully tested under real conditions on a beamline.

Mismodeled purines: implicit alternates and hidden Hoogsteens


Hoogsteen base pairs are seen in DNA crystal structures, but only rarely. This study tests whether Hoogsteens or other syn purines are either under-modeled or over-modeled, which are known problems for rare conformations. Candidate purines needing a syn/anti 180° flip were identified by diagnostic patterns of difference electron-density peaks. Manual inspection narrowed 105 flip candidates to 20 convincing cases, all at ≤2.7 Å resolution. Rebuilding and refinement confirmed that 14 of these were authentic purine flips. Seven examples are modeled as Watson–Crick base pairs but should be Hoogsteens (commonest at duplex termini), and three had the opposite issue. Syn/anti flips were also needed for some single-stranded purines. Five of the 20 convincing cases arose from an unmodeled alternate duplex running in the opposite direction. These are in semi-palindromic DNA sequences bound by a homodimeric protein and show flipped-purine-like difference peaks at residues where the palindrome is imperfect. This study documents types of incorrect modeling which are worth avoiding. However, the primary conclusions are that such mistakes are infrequent, the bias towards fitting anti purines is very slight, and the occurrence rate of Hoogsteen base pairs in DNA crystal structures remains unchanged from earlier estimates at ∼0.3%.