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This article is part of the supplement: Italian Society of Bioinformatics (BITS): Annual Meeting 2005

Open Access Research article

A neural strategy for the inference of SH3 domain-peptide interaction specificity

Enrico Ferraro*, Allegra Via, Gabriele Ausiello and Manuela Helmer-Citterich

Author Affiliations

Centre for Molecular Bioinformatics, Department of Biology, University of Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy

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BMC Bioinformatics 2005, 6(Suppl 4):S13  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-S4-S13

Published: 1 December 2005



The SH3 domain family is one of the most representative and widely studied cases of so-called Peptide Recognition Modules (PRM). The polyproline II motif PxxP that generally characterizes its ligands does not reflect the complex interaction spectrum of the over 1500 different SH3 domains, and the requirement of a more refined knowledge of their specificity implies the setting up of appropriate experimental and theoretical strategies. Due to the limitations of the current technology for peptide synthesis, several experimental high-throughput approaches have been devised to elucidate protein-protein interaction mechanisms. Such approaches can rely on and take advantage of computational techniques, such as regular expressions or position specific scoring matrices (PSSMs) to pre-process entire proteomes in the search for putative SH3 targets.

In this regard, a reliable inference methodology to be used for reducing the sequence space of putative binding peptides represents a valuable support for molecular and cellular biologists.


Using as benchmark the peptide sequences obtained from in vitro binding experiments, we set up a neural network model that performs better than PSSM in the detection of SH3 domain interactors. In particular our model is more precise in its predictions, even if its performance can vary among different SH3 domains and is strongly dependent on the number of binding peptides in the benchmark.


We show that a neural network can be more effective than standard methods in SH3 domain specificity detection. Neural classifiers identify general SH3 domain binders and domain-specific interactors from a PxxP peptide population, provided that there are a sufficient proportion of true positives in the training sets. This capability can also improve peptide selection for library definition in array experiments. Further advances can be achieved, including properly encoded domain sequences and structural information as input for a global neural network.