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Open Access Research article

Prediction of conformational B-cell epitopes from 3D structures by random forests with a distance-based feature

Wen Zhang*, Yi Xiong, Meng Zhao, Hua Zou, Xinghuo Ye and Juan Liu*

Author Affiliations

School of Computer, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:341  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-341

Published: 17 August 2011

Abstract

Background

Antigen-antibody interactions are key events in immune system, which provide important clues to the immune processes and responses. In Antigen-antibody interactions, the specific sites on the antigens that are directly bound by the B-cell produced antibodies are well known as B-cell epitopes. The identification of epitopes is a hot topic in bioinformatics because of their potential use in the epitope-based drug design. Although most B-cell epitopes are discontinuous (or conformational), insufficient effort has been put into the conformational epitope prediction, and the performance of existing methods is far from satisfaction.

Results

In order to develop the high-accuracy model, we focus on some possible aspects concerning the prediction performance, including the impact of interior residues, different contributions of adjacent residues, and the imbalanced data which contain much more non-epitope residues than epitope residues. In order to address above issues, we take following strategies. Firstly, a concept of 'thick surface patch' instead of 'surface patch' is introduced to describe the local spatial context of each surface residue, which considers the impact of interior residue. The comparison between the thick surface patch and the surface patch shows that interior residues contribute to the recognition of epitopes. Secondly, statistical significance of the distance distribution difference between non-epitope patches and epitope patches is observed, thus an adjacent residue distance feature is presented, which reflects the unequal contributions of adjacent residues to the location of binding sites. Thirdly, a bootstrapping and voting procedure is adopted to deal with the imbalanced dataset. Based on the above ideas, we propose a new method to identify the B-cell conformational epitopes from 3D structures by combining conventional features and the proposed feature, and the random forest (RF) algorithm is used as the classification engine. The experiments show that our method can predict conformational B-cell epitopes with high accuracy. Evaluated by leave-one-out cross validation (LOOCV), our method achieves the mean AUC value of 0.633 for the benchmark bound dataset, and the mean AUC value of 0.654 for the benchmark unbound dataset. When compared with the state-of-the-art prediction models in the independent test, our method demonstrates comparable or better performance.

Conclusions

Our method is demonstrated to be effective for the prediction of conformational epitopes. Based on the study, we develop a tool to predict the conformational epitopes from 3D structures, available at http://code.google.com/p/my-project-bpredictor/downloads/list webcite.