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Open Access Research article

Role of long- and short-range hydrophobic, hydrophilic and charged residues contact network in protein’s structural organization

Dhriti Sengupta and Sudip Kundu*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biophysics, Molecular Biology & Bioinformatics, University of Calcutta, 92 APC Road, Kolkata-700009, India

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-142

Published: 21 June 2012



The three-dimensional structure of a protein can be described as a graph where nodes represent residues and the strength of non-covalent interactions between them are edges. These protein contact networks can be separated into long and short-range interactions networks depending on the positions of amino acids in primary structure. Long-range interactions play a distinct role in determining the tertiary structure of a protein while short-range interactions could largely contribute to the secondary structure formations. In addition, physico chemical properties and the linear arrangement of amino acids of the primary structure of a protein determines its three dimensional structure. Here, we present an extensive analysis of protein contact subnetworks based on the London van der Waals interactions of amino acids at different length scales. We further subdivided those networks in hydrophobic, hydrophilic and charged residues networks and have tried to correlate their influence in the overall topology and organization of a protein.


The largest connected component (LCC) of long (LRN)-, short (SRN)- and all-range (ARN) networks within proteins exhibit a transition behaviour when plotted against different interaction strengths of edges among amino acid nodes. While short-range networks having chain like structures exhibit highly cooperative transition; long- and all-range networks, which are more similar to each other, have non-chain like structures and show less cooperativity. Further, the hydrophobic residues subnetworks in long- and all-range networks have similar transition behaviours with all residues all-range networks, but the hydrophilic and charged residues networks don’t. While the nature of transitions of LCC’s sizes is same in SRNs for thermophiles and mesophiles, there exists a clear difference in LRNs. The presence of larger size of interconnected long-range interactions in thermophiles than mesophiles, even at higher interaction strength between amino acids, give extra stability to the tertiary structure of the thermophiles. All the subnetworks at different length scales (ARNs, LRNs and SRNs) show assortativity mixing property of their participating amino acids. While there exists a significant higher percentage of hydrophobic subclusters over others in ARNs and LRNs; we do not find the assortative mixing behaviour of any the subclusters in SRNs. The clustering coefficient of hydrophobic subclusters in long-range network is the highest among types of subnetworks. There exist highly cliquish hydrophobic nodes followed by charged nodes in LRNs and ARNs; on the other hand, we observe the highest dominance of charged residues cliques in short-range networks. Studies on the perimeter of the cliques also show higher occurrences of hydrophobic and charged residues’ cliques.


The simple framework of protein contact networks and their subnetworks based on London van der Waals force is able to capture several known properties of protein structure as well as can unravel several new features. The thermophiles do not only have the higher number of long-range interactions; they also have larger cluster of connected residues at higher interaction strengths among amino acids, than their mesophilic counterparts. It can reestablish the significant role of long-range hydrophobic clusters in protein folding and stabilization; at the same time, it shed light on the higher communication ability of hydrophobic subnetworks over the others. The results give an indication of the controlling role of hydrophobic subclusters in determining protein’s folding rate. The occurrences of higher perimeters of hydrophobic and charged cliques imply the role of charged residues as well as hydrophobic residues in stabilizing the distant part of primary structure of a protein through London van der Waals interaction.

Protein contact network; Largest cluster transition; Assortativity; Clustering coefficient; Cliques