Molecular modeling studies on the ribosome

Stephen C. Harvey, Arun Malhotra, Robert K.Z. Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In the absence of a high resolution crystal structure for the ribosome, numerous research groups are carrying out low resolution structural studies using neutron diffraction, electron microscopy, fluorescence energy transfer, chemical crosslinking, chemical footprinting studies, and other methods. We have developed a computer-based refinement method for incorporating these data into low resolution three-dimensional models. The method is based on a molecular mechanics approach, with proteins represented by spherical particles of suitable diameter and the ribosomal RNA represented by a string of spherical pseudoatoms, one for each nucleotide. Experimental data are used to derive constraints that are introduced through a special force field (potential function). Models are refined by simulated annealing. Since every term in the force field is quadratic, any model that satisfies all of the input data has an energy of zero; higher energies indicate residual unsatisfied constraints. The residual energy provides a quantitative statement of model quality and can be used to identify conflicts in the experimental data. The method has been applied to the refinement of a low resolution model for the 30S subunit (the small subunit) of the E. coli ribosome. Since this is a very underdetermined system, the range of acceptable models has also been explored. This provides an estimate of the resolution of the structure, which is about 15 Å overall, with the uncertainty in position of individual nucleotides ranging from about 5 Å to 50 Å.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-218
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular Engineering
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 1 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • molecular mechanics
  • Ribosome
  • structure refinement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry


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