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BMC Bioinformatics. 2007 Apr 30;8:141.

Relating destabilizing regions to known functional sites in proteins.

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  • 1Service de Conformation des Macromolécules Biologiques, Centre de Biologie Structurale et Bioinformatique, CP 263, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Bruxelles, Belgium. <>



Most methods for predicting functional sites in protein 3D structures, rely on information on related proteins and cannot be applied to proteins with no known relatives. Another limitation of these methods is the lack of a well annotated set of functional sites to use as benchmark for validating their predictions. Experimental findings and theoretical considerations suggest that residues involved in function often contribute unfavorably to the native state stability. We examine the possibility of systematically exploiting this intrinsic property to identify functional sites using an original procedure that detects destabilizing regions in protein structures. In addition, to relate destabilizing regions to known functional sites, a novel benchmark consisting of a diverse set of hand-curated protein functional sites is derived.


A procedure for detecting clusters of destabilizing residues in protein structures is presented. Individual residue contributions to protein stability are evaluated using detailed atomic models and a force-field successfully applied in computational protein design. The most destabilizing residues, and some of their closest neighbours, are clustered into destabilizing regions following a rigorous protocol. Our procedure is applied to high quality apo-structures of 63 unrelated proteins. The biologically relevant binding sites of these proteins were annotated using all available information, including structural data and literature curation, resulting in the largest hand-curated dataset of binding sites in proteins available to date. Comparing the destabilizing regions with the annotated binding sites in these proteins, we find that the overlap is on average limited, but significantly better than random. Results depend on the type of bound ligand. Significant overlap is obtained for most polysaccharide- and small ligand-binding sites, whereas no overlap is observed for most nucleic acid binding sites. These differences are rationalised in terms of the geometry and energetics of the binding site.


We find that although destabilizing regions as detected here can in general not be used to predict binding sites in protein structures, they can provide useful information, particularly on the location of functional sites that bind polysaccharides and small ligands. This information can be exploited in methods for predicting function in protein structures with no known relatives. Our publicly available benchmark of hand-curated functional sites in proteins should help other workers derive and validate new prediction methods.

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