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Open Access Methodology article

CRF-based models of protein surfaces improve protein-protein interaction site predictions

Zhijie Dong1, Keyu Wang1, Truong Khanh Linh Dang1, Mehmet Gültas2, Marlon Welter1, Torsten Wierschin3, Mario Stanke3 and Stephan Waack1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Computer Science, University of Göttingen, Goldschmidtstr. 7, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

2 Institute of Bioinformatics, University of Göttingen, Goldschmidtstr. 1, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

3 Institut für Mathematik und Informatik, Walther-Rathenau-Str. 47, 17487 Greifswald, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:277  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-277

Published: 13 August 2014



The identification of protein-protein interaction sites is a computationally challenging task and important for understanding the biology of protein complexes. There is a rich literature in this field. A broad class of approaches assign to each candidate residue a real-valued score that measures how likely it is that the residue belongs to the interface. The prediction is obtained by thresholding this score.

Some probabilistic models classify the residues on the basis of the posterior probabilities. In this paper, we introduce pairwise conditional random fields (pCRFs) in which edges are not restricted to the backbone as in the case of linear-chain CRFs utilized by Li et al. (2007). In fact, any 3D-neighborhood relation can be modeled. On grounds of a generalized Viterbi inference algorithm and a piecewise training process for pCRFs, we demonstrate how to utilize pCRFs to enhance a given residue-wise score-based protein-protein interface predictor on the surface of the protein under study. The features of the pCRF are solely based on the interface predictions scores of the predictor the performance of which shall be improved.


We performed three sets of experiments with synthetic scores assigned to the surface residues of proteins taken from the data set PlaneDimers compiled by Zellner et al. (2011), from the list published by Keskin et al. (2004) and from the very recent data set due to Cukuroglu et al. (2014). That way we demonstrated that our pCRF-based enhancer is effective given the interface residue score distribution and the non-interface residue score are unimodal.

Moreover, the pCRF-based enhancer is also successfully applicable, if the distributions are only unimodal over a certain sub-domain. The improvement is then restricted to that domain. Thus we were able to improve the prediction of the PresCont server devised by Zellner et al. (2011) on PlaneDimers.


Our results strongly suggest that pCRFs form a methodological framework to improve residue-wise score-based protein-protein interface predictors given the scores are appropriately distributed. A prototypical implementation of our method is accessible at webcite.