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Protein Sci. Apr 1995; 4(4): 622–635.
PMCID: PMC2143108

Characterizing the microenvironment surrounding protein sites.


Sites are microenvironments within a biomolecular structure, distinguished by their structural or functional role. A site can be defined by a three-dimensional location and a local neighborhood around this location in which the structure or function exists. We have developed a computer system to facilitate structural analysis (both qualitative and quantitative) of biomolecular sites. Our system automatically examines the spatial distributions of biophysical and biochemical properties, and reports those regions within a site where the distribution of these properties differs significantly from control nonsites. The properties range from simple atom-based characteristics such as charge to polypeptide-based characteristics such as type of secondary structure. Our analysis of sites uses non-sites as controls, providing a baseline for the quantitative assessment of the significance of the features that are uncovered. In this paper, we use radial distributions of properties to study three well-known sites (the binding sites for calcium, the milieu of disulfide bridges, and the serine protease active site). We demonstrate that the system automatically finds many of the previously described features of these sites and augments these features with some new details. In some cases, we cannot confirm the statistical significance of previously reported features. Our results demonstrate that analysis of protein structure is sensitive to assumptions about background distributions, and that these distributions should be considered explicitly during structural analyses.

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