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Nat Struct Biol. 2001 Nov;8(11):953-7.

Identification of homology in protein structure classification.

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Structural Genomics Group, EMBL-EBI, Cambridge CB10 1SD, UK.


Structural biology and structural genomics are expected to produce many three-dimensional protein structures in the near future. Each new structure raises questions about its function and evolution. Correct functional and evolutionary classification of a new structure is difficult for distantly related proteins and error-prone using simple statistical scores based on sequence or structure similarity. Here we present an accurate numerical method for the identification of evolutionary relationships (homology). The method is based on the principle that natural selection maintains structural and functional continuity within a diverging protein family. The problem of different rates of structural divergence between different families is solved by first using structural similarities to produce a global map of folds in protein space and then further subdividing fold neighborhoods into superfamilies based on functional similarities. In a validation test against a classification by human experts (SCOP), 77% of homologous pairs were identified with 92% reliability. The method is fully automated, allowing fast, self-consistent and complete classification of large numbers of protein structures. In particular, the discrimination between analogy and homology of close structural neighbors will lead to functional predictions while avoiding overprediction.

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