Mapping the Conformation Space of Wildtype and Mutant H-Ras with a Memetic, Cellular, and Multiscale Evolutionary Algorithm

Rudy Clausen, Buyong Ma, Ruth Nussinov, Amarda Shehu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An important goal in molecular biology is to understand functional changes upon single-point mutations in proteins. Doing so through a detailed characterization of structure spaces and underlying energy landscapes is desirable but continues to challenge methods based on Molecular Dynamics. In this paper we propose a novel algorithm, SIfTER, which is based instead on stochastic optimization to circumvent the computational challenge of exploring the breadth of a protein’s structure space. SIfTER is a data-driven evolutionary algorithm, leveraging experimentally-available structures of wildtype and variant sequences of a protein to define a reduced search space from where to efficiently draw samples corresponding to novel structures not directly observed in the wet laboratory. The main advantage of SIfTER is its ability to rapidly generate conformational ensembles, thus allowing mapping and juxtaposing landscapes of variant sequences and relating observed differences to functional changes. We apply SIfTER to variant sequences of the H-Ras catalytic domain, due to the prominent role of the Ras protein in signaling pathways that control cell proliferation, its well-studied conformational switching, and abundance of documented mutations in several human tumors. Many Ras mutations are oncogenic, but detailed energy landscapes have not been reported until now. Analysis of SIfTER-computed energy landscapes for the wildtype and two oncogenic variants, G12V and Q61L, suggests that these mutations cause constitutive activation through two different mechanisms. G12V directly affects binding specificity while leaving the energy landscape largely unchanged, whereas Q61L has pronounced, starker effects on the landscape. An implementation of SIfTER is made available at We believe SIfTER is useful to the community to answer the question of how sequence mutations affect the function of a protein, when there is an abundance of experimental structures that can be exploited to reconstruct an energy landscape that would be computationally impractical to do via Molecular Dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004470
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2015


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