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PLoS Comput Biol. 2007 Sep;3(9):1716-26.

Signal propagation in proteins and relation to equilibrium fluctuations.

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  • 1Department of Computational Biology, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Erratum in

  • PLoS Comput Biol. 2007 Oct 12;3(10):2043.


Elastic network (EN) models have been widely used in recent years for describing protein dynamics, based on the premise that the motions naturally accessible to native structures are relevant to biological function. We posit that equilibrium motions also determine communication mechanisms inherent to the network architecture. To this end, we explore the stochastics of a discrete-time, discrete-state Markov process of information transfer across the network of residues. We measure the communication abilities of residue pairs in terms of hit and commute times, i.e., the number of steps it takes on an average to send and receive signals. Functionally active residues are found to possess enhanced communication propensities, evidenced by their short hit times. Furthermore, secondary structural elements emerge as efficient mediators of communication. The present findings provide us with insights on the topological basis of communication in proteins and design principles for efficient signal transduction. While hit/commute times are information-theoretic concepts, a central contribution of this work is to rigorously show that they have physical origins directly relevant to the equilibrium fluctuations of residues predicted by EN models.

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