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Biophys J. 2005 Dec;89(6):4159-70. Epub 2005 Sep 8.

A network representation of protein structures: implications for protein stability.

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Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, India.


This study views each protein structure as a network of noncovalent connections between amino acid side chains. Each amino acid in a protein structure is a node, and the strength of the noncovalent interactions between two amino acids is evaluated for edge determination. The protein structure graphs (PSGs) for 232 proteins have been constructed as a function of the cutoff of the amino acid interaction strength at a few carefully chosen values. Analysis of such PSGs constructed on the basis of edge weights has shown the following: 1), The PSGs exhibit a complex topological network behavior, which is dependent on the interaction cutoff chosen for PSG construction. 2), A transition is observed at a critical interaction cutoff, in all the proteins, as monitored by the size of the largest cluster (giant component) in the graph. Amazingly, this transition occurs within a narrow range of interaction cutoff for all the proteins, irrespective of the size or the fold topology. And 3), the amino acid preferences to be highly connected (hub frequency) have been evaluated as a function of the interaction cutoff. We observe that the aromatic residues along with arginine, histidine, and methionine act as strong hubs at high interaction cutoffs, whereas the hydrophobic leucine and isoleucine residues get added to these hubs at low interaction cutoffs, forming weak hubs. The hubs identified are found to play a role in bringing together different secondary structural elements in the tertiary structure of the proteins. They are also found to contribute to the additional stability of the thermophilic proteins when compared to their mesophilic counterparts and hence could be crucial for the folding and stability of the unique three-dimensional structure of proteins. Based on these results, we also predict a few residues in the thermophilic and mesophilic proteins that can be mutated to alter their thermal stability.

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