Redrawing the Ramachandran Plot

A protein backbone has two degrees of conformational freedom per residue, described by its φ,ψ‑angles. Accordingly, the energy landscape of a blocked peptide unit can be mapped in two dimensions, as shown by Ramachandran, Sasisekharan and Ramakrishnan almost half a century ago. With atoms approximated as hard spheres, the eponymous Ramachandran plot demonstrated that steric clashes alone eliminate ¾ of φ,ψ‑space, a result that has guided all subsequent work. Here, we show that adding hydrogen-bonding constraints to these steric criteria eliminates another substantial region of φ,ψ‑space for a blocked peptide; for conformers within this region, an amide hydrogen is solvent-inaccessible, depriving it of a hydrogen-bonding partner. Yet, this “forbidden” region is well populated in folded proteins, which can provide longer-range intramolecular hydrogen-bond partners for these otherwise unsatisfied polar groups. Consequently, conformational space expands under folding conditions, a paradigm-shifting realization that prompts an experimentally verifiable conjecture about likely folding pathways. (“Redrawing the Ramachandran plot after inclusion of hydrogen-bonding constraints” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 108:109-113.)

Ramachandran plot