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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Conserved residue clusters at protein-protein interfaces and their use in binding site identification

Mainak Guharoy1 and Pinak Chakrabarti12*

Author Affiliations

1 Bioinformatics Centre, Bose Institute, P-1/12 CIT Scheme VIIM, Kolkata 700 054, India

2 Department of Biochemistry, Bose Institute, P-1/12 CIT Scheme VIIM, Kolkata 700 054, India

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:286  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-286

Published: 27 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Biological evolution conserves protein residues that are important for structure and function. Both protein stability and function often require a certain degree of structural co-operativity between spatially neighboring residues and it has previously been shown that conserved residues occur clustered together in protein tertiary structures, enzyme active sites and protein-DNA interfaces. Residues comprising protein interfaces are often more conserved compared to those occurring elsewhere on the protein surface. We investigate the extent to which conserved residues within protein-protein interfaces are clustered together in three-dimensions.

Results

Out of 121 and 392 interfaces in homodimers and heterocomplexes, 96.7 and 86.7%, respectively, have the conserved positions clustered within the overall interface region. The significance of this clustering was established in comparison to what is seen for the subsets of the same size of randomly selected residues from the interface. Conserved residues occurring in larger interfaces could often be sub-divided into two or more distinct sub-clusters. These structural cluster(s) comprising conserved residues indicate functionally important regions within the protein-protein interface that can be targeted for further structural and energetic analysis by experimental scanning mutagenesis. Almost 60% of experimental hot spot residues (with ΔΔG > 2 kcal/mol) were localized to these conserved residue clusters. An analysis of the residue types that are enriched within these conserved subsets compared to the overall interface showed that hydrophobic and aromatic residues are favored, but charged residues (both positive and negative) are less common. The potential use of this method for discriminating binding sites (interfaces) versus random surface patches was explored by comparing the clustering of conserved residues within each of these regions - in about 50% cases the true interface is ranked among the top 10% of all surface patches.

Conclusions

Protein-protein interaction sites are much larger than small molecule biding sites, but still conserved residues are not randomly distributed over the whole interface and are distinctly clustered. The clustered nature of evolutionarily conserved residues within interfaces as compared to those within other surface patches not involved in binding has important implications for the identification of protein-protein binding sites and would have applications in docking studies.