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Proteins. 2012 Aug;80(8):2080-8. doi: 10.1002/prot.24100. Epub 2012 May 25.

A new size-independent score for pairwise protein structure alignment and its application to structure classification and nucleic-acid binding prediction.

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Indiana University School of Informatics, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202, USA.


A structure alignment program aligns two structures by optimizing a scoring function that measures structural similarity. It is highly desirable that such scoring function is independent of the sizes of proteins in comparison so that the significance of alignment across different sizes of the protein regions aligned is comparable. Here, we developed a new score called SP-score that fixes the cutoff distance at 4 Å and removed the size dependence using a normalization prefactor. We further built a program called SPalign that optimizes SP-score for structure alignment. SPalign was applied to recognize proteins within the same structure fold and having the same function of DNA or RNA binding. For fold discrimination, SPalign improves sensitivity over TMalign for the chain-level comparison by 12% and over DALI for the domain-level comparison by 13% at the same specificity of 99.6%. The difference between TMalign and SPalign at the chain level is due to the inability of TMalign to detect single domain similarity between multidomain proteins. For recognizing nucleic acid binding proteins, SPalign consistently improves over TMalign by 12% and DALI by 31% in average value of Mathews correlation coefficients for four datasets. SPalign with default setting is 14% faster than TMalign. SPalign is expected to be useful for function prediction and comparing structures with or without domains defined. The source code for SPalign and the server are available at

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