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This article is part of the supplement: Research from the Eleventh International Workshop on Network Tools and Applications in Biology (NETTAB 2011)

Open Access Research

The human "magnesome": detecting magnesium binding sites on human proteins

Damiano Piovesan1, Giuseppe Profiti12, Pier Luigi Martelli1 and Rita Casadio12*

Author Affiliations

1 Biocomputing Group, Department of Biology, University of Bologna, Bologna, 40126, Italy

2 Health Science and Technologies-ICIR, University of Bologna, Bologna, 40126, Italy

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13(Suppl 14):S10  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-S14-S10

Published: 7 September 2012



Magnesium research is increasing in molecular medicine due to the relevance of this ion in several important biological processes and associated molecular pathogeneses. It is still difficult to predict from the protein covalent structure whether a human chain is or not involved in magnesium binding. This is mainly due to little information on the structural characteristics of magnesium binding sites in proteins and protein complexes. Magnesium binding features, differently from those of other divalent cations such as calcium and zinc, are elusive. Here we address a question that is relevant in protein annotation: how many human proteins can bind Mg2+? Our analysis is performed taking advantage of the recently implemented Bologna Annotation Resource (BAR-PLUS), a non hierarchical clustering method that relies on the pair wise sequence comparison of about 14 millions proteins from over 300.000 species and their grouping into clusters where annotation can safely be inherited after statistical validation.


After cluster assignment of the latest version of the human proteome, the total number of human proteins for which we can assign putative Mg binding sites is 3,751. Among these proteins, 2,688 inherit annotation directly from human templates and 1,063 inherit annotation from templates of other organisms. Protein structures are highly conserved inside a given cluster. Transfer of structural properties is possible after alignment of a given sequence with the protein structures that characterise a given cluster as obtained with a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) based procedure. Interestingly a set of 370 human sequences inherit Mg2+ binding sites from templates sharing less than 30% sequence identity with the template.


We describe and deliver the "human magnesome", a set of proteins of the human proteome that inherit putative binding of magnesium ions. With our BAR-hMG, 251 clusters including 1,341 magnesium binding protein structures corresponding to 387 sequences are sufficient to annotate some 13,689 residues in 3,751 human sequences as "magnesium binding". Protein structures act therefore as three dimensional seeds for structural and functional annotation of human sequences. The data base collects specifically all the human proteins that can be annotated according to our procedure as "magnesium binding", the corresponding structures and BAR+ clusters from where they derive the annotation ( webcite).