• protein design;
  • sequence space;
  • library design;
  • antibody;
  • phage display;
  • flexible backbone;
  • conformational ensemble;
  • kinematic closure;
  • backrub;
  • molecular dynamics


Computational protein design methods can complement experimental screening and selection techniques by predicting libraries of low-energy sequences compatible with a desired structure and function. Incorporating backbone flexibility in computational design allows conformational adjustments that should broaden the range of predicted low-energy sequences. Here, we evaluate computational predictions of sequence libraries from different protocols for modeling backbone flexibility using the complex between the therapeutic antibody Herceptin and its target human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) as a model system. Within the program RosettaDesign, three methods are compared: The first two use ensembles of structures generated by Monte Carlo protocols for near-native conformational sampling: kinematic closure (KIC) and backrub, and the third method uses snapshots from molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. KIC or backrub methods were better able to identify the amino acid residues experimentally observed by phage display in the Herceptin–HER2 interface than MD snapshots, which generated much larger conformational and sequence diversity. KIC and backrub, as well as fixed backbone simulations, captured the key mutation Asp98Trp in Herceptin, which leads to a further threefold affinity improvement of the already subnanomolar parental Herceptin-HER2 interface. Modeling subtle backbone conformational changes may assist in the design of sequence libraries for improving the affinity of antibody–antigen interfaces and could be suitable for other protein complexes for which structural information is available.