Open Access Research article

Calculation of accurate small angle X-ray scattering curves from coarse-grained protein models

Kasper Stovgaard1, Christian Andreetta1, Jesper Ferkinghoff-Borg2 and Thomas Hamelryck1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Bioinformatics Centre, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:429  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-429

Published: 18 August 2010



Genome sequencing projects have expanded the gap between the amount of known protein sequences and structures. The limitations of current high resolution structure determination methods make it unlikely that this gap will disappear in the near future. Small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) is an established low resolution method for routinely determining the structure of proteins in solution. The purpose of this study is to develop a method for the efficient calculation of accurate SAXS curves from coarse-grained protein models. Such a method can for example be used to construct a likelihood function, which is paramount for structure determination based on statistical inference.


We present a method for the efficient calculation of accurate SAXS curves based on the Debye formula and a set of scattering form factors for dummy atom representations of amino acids. Such a method avoids the computationally costly iteration over all atoms. We estimated the form factors using generated data from a set of high quality protein structures. No ad hoc scaling or correction factors are applied in the calculation of the curves. Two coarse-grained representations of protein structure were investigated; two scattering bodies per amino acid led to significantly better results than a single scattering body.


We show that the obtained point estimates allow the calculation of accurate SAXS curves from coarse-grained protein models. The resulting curves are on par with the current state-of-the-art program CRYSOL, which requires full atomic detail. Our method was also comparable to CRYSOL in recognizing native structures among native-like decoys. As a proof-of-concept, we combined the coarse-grained Debye calculation with a previously described probabilistic model of protein structure, TorusDBN. This resulted in a significant improvement in the decoy recognition performance. In conclusion, the presented method shows great promise for use in statistical inference of protein structures from SAXS data.