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Open Access Research article

ProfNet, a method to derive profile-profile alignment scoring functions that improves the alignments of distantly related proteins

Tomas Ohlson and Arne Elofsson*

Author Affiliations

Stockholm Blolnformatlcs Center, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Bioinformatics 2005, 6:253  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-253

Published: 14 October 2005



Profile-profile methods have been used for some years now to detect and align homologous proteins. The best such methods use information from the background distribution of amino acids and substitution tables either when constructing the profiles or in the scoring. This makes the methods dependent on the quality and choice of substitution table as well as the construction of the profiles.

Here, we introduce a novel method called ProfNet that is used to derive a profile-profile scoring function.

The method optimizes the discrimination between scores of related and unrelated residues and it is fast and straightforward to use. This new method derives a scoring function that is mainly dependent on the actual alignment of residues from a training set, and it does not use any additional information about the background distribution.


It is shown that ProfNet improves the discrimination of related and unrelated residues. Further it can be used to improve the alignment of distantly related proteins.


The best performance is obtained using superfamily related proteins in the training of ProfNet, and a classifier that is related to the distance between the structurally aligned residues. The main difference between the new scoring function and a traditional profile-profile scoring function is that conserved residues on average score higher with the new function.