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Protein Sci. Dec 1996; 5(12): 2600–2616.
PMCID: PMC2143328

Conformational analysis and clustering of short and medium size loops connecting regular secondary structures: a database for modeling and prediction.


Loops are regions of nonrepetitive conformation connecting regular secondary structures. We identified 2,024 loops of one to eight residues in length, with acceptable main-chain bond lengths and peptide bond angles, from a database of 223 protein and protein-domain structures. Each loop is characterized by its sequence, main-chain conformation, and relative disposition of its bounding secondary structures as described by the separation between the tips of their axes and the angle between them. Loops, grouped according to their length and type of their bounding secondary structures, were superposed and clustered into 161 conformational classes, corresponding to 63% of all loops. Of these, 109 (51% of the loops) were populated by at least four nonhomologous loops or four loops sharing a low sequence identity. Another 52 classes, including 12% of the loops, were populated by at least three loops of low sequence similarity from three or fewer nonhomologous groups. Loop class suprafamilies resulting from variations in the termini of secondary structures are discussed in this article. Most previously described loop conformations were found among the classes. New classes included a 2:4 type IV hairpin, a helix-capping loop, and a loop that mediates dinucleotide-binding. The relative disposition of bounding secondary structures varies among loop classes, with some classes such as beta-hairpins being very restrictive. For each class, sequence preferences as key residues were identified; those most frequently at these conserved positions than in proteins were Gly, Asp, Pro, Phe, and Cys. Most of these residues are involved in stabilizing loop conformation, often through a positive phi conformation or secondary structure capping. Identification of helix-capping residues and beta-breakers among the highly conserved positions supported our decision to group loops according to their bounding secondary structures. Several of the identified loop classes were associated with specific functions, and all of the member loops had the same function; key residues were conserved for this purpose, as is the case for the parvalbumin-like calcium-binding loops. A significant number, but not all, of the member loops of other loop classes had the same function, as is the case for the helix-turn-helix DNA-binding loops. This article provides a systematic and coherent conformational classification of loops, covering a broad range of lengths and all four combinations of bounding secondary structure types, and supplies a useful basis for modelling of loop conformations where the bounding secondary structures are known or reliably predicted.

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Selected References

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