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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038913. Epub 2012 Jun 13.

How many protein-protein interactions types exist in nature?

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Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.


"Protein quaternary structure universe" refers to the ensemble of all protein-protein complexes across all organisms in nature. The number of quaternary folds thus corresponds to the number of ways proteins physically interact with other proteins. This study focuses on answering two basic questions: Whether the number of protein-protein interactions is limited and, if yes, how many different quaternary folds exist in nature. By all-to-all sequence and structure comparisons, we grouped the protein complexes in the protein data bank (PDB) into 3,629 families and 1,761 folds. A statistical model was introduced to obtain the quantitative relation between the numbers of quaternary families and quaternary folds in nature. The total number of possible protein-protein interactions was estimated around 4,000, which indicates that the current protein repository contains only 42% of quaternary folds in nature and a full coverage needs approximately a quarter century of experimental effort. The results have important implications to the protein complex structural modeling and the structure genomics of protein-protein interactions.

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