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Proteins. 2004 Jun 1;55(4):962-76.

Superfamily active site templates.

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Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of California, Genentech Hall, 600 Sixteenth Street, San Francisco, CA 94143-2240, USA.


We show that three-dimensional signatures consisting of only a few functionally important residues can be diagnostic of membership in superfamilies of enzymes. Using the enolase superfamily as a model system, we demonstrate that such a signature, or template, can identify superfamily members in structural databases with high sensitivity and specificity. This is remarkable because superfamilies can be highly diverse, with members catalyzing many different overall reactions; the unifying principle can be a conserved partial reaction or chemical capability. Our definition of a superfamily thus hinges on the disposition of residues involved in a conserved function, rather than on fold similarity alone. A clear advantage of basing structure searches on such active site templates rather than on fold similarity is the specificity with which superfamilies with distinct functional characteristics can be identified within a large set of proteins with the same fold, such as the (beta/alpha)8 barrels. Preliminary results are presented for an additional group of enzymes with a different fold, the haloacid dehalogenase superfamily, suggesting that this approach may be generally useful for assigning reading frames of unknown function to specific superfamilies and thereby allowing inference of some of their functional properties.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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