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A practical generally applicable procedure for exponential modeling to maximum likelihood of macromolecular data sets constrained by a moderately large basis set of reliable phases and a molecular envelope is described, based on the computer program MICE [Bricogne & Gilmore (1990). Acta Cryst. A46, 284-297]. Procedures were first tested with simulated data sets. Exact and randomly perturbed amplitudes and phases were generated, together with a known envelope for solvent-free protein and for protein in an electron-dense crystal mother liquor typical of many real protein crystals. These experiments established useful guidelines and values for various parameters. Tests with basis sets chosen from the largest amplitudes indicate that exponential models with considerable correct extrapolated phase and amplitude information can be constructed from as few as 16% of the total number of reflections, with mean phase errors of about 30°, at resolution limits of either 5 or 3 Å. When the shape of the solvent channels in macromolecular crystals is known, it offers an important additional source of information. MICE was, therefore, adapted to average the density outside the molecular boundary defined by an input envelope. This flattening process imposes a uniform density distribution in solvent-filled channels as an additional constraint on the exponential model and is analogous to the treatment of solvent in conventional solvent flattening. Experimental data for cytidine deaminase, a structure recently solved by making extensive use of conventional solvent flattening, provides an example of the performance of maximum-entropy methods in a real situation and a compelling comparison of this method to standard procedures. Exponential models of the electron density constrained by the most reliable phases obtained by multiple isomorphous replacement with anomalous scattering (MIRAS) (figure of merit > 0.7, representing 34% of the total number of reflections) and by the envelope give rise to centroid electron-density maps which are quantitatively superior by numerous statistical criteria to conventionally solvent-flattened density. Similarity of these maps to the 2Fobs - Fcalc map calculated with phases obtained after crystallographic refinement of the model implies that maximum-entropy extrapolation provides better phases for the remaining 66% of the reflections than the original centroid MIRAS distributions. Importantly, the solvent-flattened electron density, although it did permit interpretation of the map which was not readily accomplished with the MIRAS map, contains substantial errors. It is proposed that errors of this sort may account for previously noted deficiencies of the solvent-flattening method [Fenderson, Herriott & Adman (1990). J. Appl. Cryst. 23, 115-131] and for the occasional tendency of incorrect interpretations to be `locked in' by crystallographic refinement [Brändén & Jones (1990). Nature (London), 343, 687-689, and references cited therein]. Solvent flattening with combined maximization of entropy and likelihood represents a phase-refinement path independent of atomic models, using the experimental amplitudes and the most reliable phases. It should, therefore, become a valuable and generally useful procedure in macromolecular crystal structure determination.
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