David W. Ritchie and Graham J. L. Kemp
We have developed a knowledge-based system which models the side chain conformations of residues in the variable domains of antibody Fv fragments. The system is written in Prolog and uses an object-oriented database of aligned antibody structures in conjunction with a side chain rotamer library. The antibody database provides 3-dimensional clusters of side chain conformations which can be copied en masse into the model structure. The object-oriented database architecture facilitates a navigational style of database access, necessary to assemble side chains clusters. Around 60% of the model is built using side chain clusters and this eliminates much of the combinatorial complexity associated with many other side chain placement algorithms. Construction and placement of side chain clusters is guided by a heuristic cost function based on a simple model of side chain packing interactions. Even with a simple model, we find that a large proportion of side chain conformations are modelled accurately. We expect our approach could be used with other homologous protein families, in addition to antibodies, both to improve the quality of model structures and to give a "smart start" to the side chain placement problem.