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PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Oct 3;4(10):e1000179. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000179.

Discarding functional residues from the substitution table improves predictions of active sites within three-dimensional structures.

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Department of Biochemistry, Biocomputing Group, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Substitutions of individual amino acids in proteins may be under very different evolutionary restraints depending on their structural and functional roles. The Environment Specific Substitution Table (ESST) describes the pattern of substitutions in terms of amino acid location within elements of secondary structure, solvent accessibility, and the existence of hydrogen bonds between side chains and neighbouring amino acid residues. Clearly amino acids that have very different local environments in their functional state compared to those in the protein analysed will give rise to inconsistencies in the calculation of amino acid substitution tables. Here, we describe how the calculation of ESSTs can be improved by discarding the functional residues from the calculation of substitution tables. Four categories of functions are examined in this study: protein-protein interactions, protein-nucleic acid interactions, protein-ligand interactions, and catalytic activity of enzymes. Their contributions to residue conservation are measured and investigated. We test our new ESSTs using the program CRESCENDO, designed to predict functional residues by exploiting knowledge of amino acid substitutions, and compare the benchmark results with proteins whose functions have been defined experimentally. The new methodology increases the Z-score by 98% at the active site residues and finds 16% more active sites compared with the old ESST. We also find that discarding amino acids responsible for protein-protein interactions helps in the prediction of those residues although they are not as conserved as the residues of active sites. Our methodology can make the substitution tables better reflect and describe the substitution patterns of amino acids that are under structural restraints only.

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