A hybrid protein structure determination approach combining sparse Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) distance restraints and Rosetta de novo protein folding has been previously demonstrated to yield high quality models (Alexander et al. (2008)). However, widespread application of this methodology to proteins of unknown structures is hindered by the lack of a general strategy to place spin label pairs in the primary sequence. In this work, we report the development of an algorithm that optimally selects spin labeling positions for the purpose of distance measurements by EPR. For the α-helical subdomain of T4 lysozyme (T4L), simulated restraints that maximize sequence separation between the two spin labels while simultaneously ensuring pairwise connectivity of secondary structure elements yielded vastly improved models by Rosetta folding. 54% of all these models have the correct fold compared to only 21% and 8% correctly folded models when randomly placed restraints or no restraints are used, respectively. Moreover, the improvements in model quality require a limited number of optimized restraints, which is determined by the pairwise connectivities of T4L α-helices. The predicted improvement in Rosetta model quality was verified by experimental determination of distances between spin labels pairs selected by the algorithm. Overall, our results reinforce the rationale for the combined use of sparse EPR distance restraints and de novo folding. By alleviating the experimental bottleneck associated with restraint selection, this algorithm sets the stage for extending computational structure determination to larger, traditionally elusive protein topologies of critical structural and biochemical importance.
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