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J Mol Biol. 1997 May 2;268(2):570-84.

Electrostatic complementarity at protein/protein interfaces.

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Biomolecular Research Institute, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


Calculation of the electrostatic potential of protein-protein complexes has led to the general assertion that protein-protein interfaces display "charge complementarity" and "electrostatic complementarity". In this study, quantitative measures for these two terms are developed and used to investigate protein-protein interfaces in a rigorous manner. Charge complementarity (CC) was defined using the correlation of charges on nearest neighbour atoms at the interface. All 12 protein-protein interfaces studied had insignificantly small CC values. Therefore, the term charge complementarity is not appropriate for the description of protein-protein interfaces when used in the sense measured by CC. Electrostatic complementarity (EC) was defined using the correlation of surface electrostatic potential at protein-protein interfaces. All twelve protein-protein interfaces studied had significant EC values, and thus the assertion that protein-protein association involves surfaces with complementary electrostatic potential was substantially confirmed. The term electrostatic complementarity can therefore be used to describe protein-protein interfaces when used in the sense measured by EC. Taken together, the results for CC and EC demonstrate the relevance of the long-range effects of charges, as described by the electrostatic potential at the binding interface. The EC value did not partition the complexes by type such as antigen-antibody and proteinase-inhibitor, as measures of the geometrical complementarity at protein-protein interfaces have done. The EC value was also not directly related to the number of salt bridges in the interface, and neutralisation of these salt bridges showed that other charges also contributed significantly to electrostatic complementarity and electrostatic interactions between the proteins. Electrostatic complementarity as defined by EC was extended to investigate the electrostatic similarity at the surface of influenza virus neuraminidase where the epitopes of two monoclonal antibodies, NC10 and NC41, overlap. Although NC10 and NC41 both have quite high values of EC for their interaction with neuraminidase, the similarity in electrostatic potential generated by the two on the overlapping region of the epitopes is insignificant. Thus, it is possible for two antibodies to recognise the electrostatic surface of a protein in dissimilar ways.

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