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Nucleic Acids Res. 2008 Mar;36(5):e29. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkn008. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

Predicting RNA-binding sites from the protein structure based on electrostatics, evolution and geometry.

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Department of Chemistry, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu 300, Taiwan.


An RNA-binding protein places a surface helix, beta-ribbon, or loop in an RNA helix groove and/or uses a cavity to accommodate unstacked bases. Hence, our strategy for predicting RNA-binding residues is based on detecting a surface patch and a disparate cleft. These were generated and scored according to the gas-phase electrostatic energy change upon mutating each residue to Asp(-)/Glu(-) and each residue's relative conservation. The method requires as input the protein structure and sufficient homologous sequences to define each residue's relative conservation. It yields as output a priority list of surface patch residues followed by a backup list of surface cleft residues distant from the patch residues for experimental testing of RNA binding. Among the 69 structurally non-homologous proteins tested, 81% possess a RNA-binding site with at least 70% of the maximum number of true positives in randomly generated patches of the same size as the predicted site; only two proteins did not contain any true RNA-binding residues in both predicted regions. Regardless of the protein conformational changes upon RNA-binding, the prediction accuracies based on the RNA-free/bound protein structures were found to be comparable and their binding sites overlapped as long as there are no disordered RNA-binding regions in the free structure that are ordered in the corresponding RNA-bound protein structure.

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