Thermodynamic analysis of water molecules at the surface of proteins and applications to binding site prediction and characterization



Water plays an essential role in determining the structure and function of all biological systems. Recent methodological advances allow for an accurate and efficient estimation of the thermodynamic properties of water molecules at the surface of proteins. In this work, we characterize these thermodynamic properties and relate them to various structural and functional characteristics of the protein. We find that high-energy hydration sites often exist near protein motifs typically characterized as hydrophilic, such as backbone amide groups. We also find that waters around alpha helices and beta sheets tend to be less stable than waters around loops. Furthermore, we find no significant correlation between the hydration site-free energy and the solvent accessible surface area of the site. In addition, we find that the distribution of high-energy hydration sites on the protein surface can be used to identify the location of binding sites and that binding sites of druggable targets tend to have a greater density of thermodynamically unstable hydration sites. Using this information, we characterize the FKBP12 protein and show good agreement between fragment screening hit rates from NMR spectroscopy and hydration site energetics. Finally, we show that water molecules observed in crystal structures are less stable on average than bulk water as a consequence of the high degree of spatial localization, thereby resulting in a significant loss in entropy. These findings should help to better understand the characteristics of waters at the surface of proteins and are expected to lead to insights that can guide structure-based drug design efforts. Proteins 2011. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.