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BMC Bioinformatics. 2006 Dec 18;7 Suppl 5:S3.

Evaluation and comparison of mammalian subcellular localization prediction methods.

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ARC Special Research Centre for Functional and Applied Genomics, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.



Determination of the subcellular location of a protein is essential to understanding its biochemical function. This information can provide insight into the function of hypothetical or novel proteins. These data are difficult to obtain experimentally but have become especially important since many whole genome sequencing projects have been finished and many resulting protein sequences are still lacking detailed functional information. In order to address this paucity of data, many computational prediction methods have been developed. However, these methods have varying levels of accuracy and perform differently based on the sequences that are presented to the underlying algorithm. It is therefore useful to compare these methods and monitor their performance.


In order to perform a comprehensive survey of prediction methods, we selected only methods that accepted large batches of protein sequences, were publicly available, and were able to predict localization to at least nine of the major subcellular locations (nucleus, cytosol, mitochondrion, extracellular region, plasma membrane, Golgi apparatus, endoplasmic reticulum (ER), peroxisome, and lysosome). The selected methods were CELLO, MultiLoc, Proteome Analyst, pTarget and WoLF PSORT. These methods were evaluated using 3763 mouse proteins from SwissProt that represent the source of the training sets used in development of the individual methods. In addition, an independent evaluation set of 2145 mouse proteins from LOCATE with a bias towards the subcellular localization underrepresented in SwissProt was used. The sensitivity and specificity were calculated for each method and compared to a theoretical value based on what might be observed by random chance.


No individual method had a sufficient level of sensitivity across both evaluation sets that would enable reliable application to hypothetical proteins. All methods showed lower performance on the LOCATE dataset and variable performance on individual subcellular localizations was observed. Proteins localized to the secretory pathway were the most difficult to predict, while nuclear and extracellular proteins were predicted with the highest sensitivity.

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