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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Comparative Analysis of Protein Structure Alignments

Gabriele Mayr12, Francisco S Domingues2 and Peter Lackner1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Biology, University of Salzburg, Hellbrunnerstrasse 34, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

2 Max-Planck-Institut für Informatik, Stuhlsatzenhausweg 85, 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany

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BMC Structural Biology 2007, 7:50  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-7-50

Published: 26 July 2007



Several methods are currently available for the comparison of protein structures. These methods have been analysed regarding the performance in the identification of structurally/evolutionary related proteins, but so far there has been less focus on the objective comparison between the alignments produced by different methods.


We analysed and compared the structural alignments obtained by different methods using three sets of pairs of structurally related proteins. The first set corresponds to 355 pairs of remote homologous proteins according to the SCOP database (ASTRAL40 set). The second set was derived from the SISYPHUS database and includes 69 protein pairs (SISY set). The third set consists of 40 pairs that are challenging to align (RIPC set). The alignment of pairs of this set requires indels of considerable number and size and some of the proteins are related by circular permutations, show extensive conformational variability or include repetitions. Two standard methods (CE and DALI) were applied to align the proteins in the ASTRAL40 set. The extent of structural similarity identified by both methods is highly correlated and the alignments from the two methods agree on average in more than half of the aligned positions. CE, DALI, as well as four additional methods (FATCAT, MATRAS, Cα-match and SHEBA) were then compared using the SISY and RIPC sets. The accuracy of the alignments was assessed by comparison to reference alignments. The alignments generated by the different methods on average match more than half of the reference alignments in the SISY set. The alignments obtained in the more challenging RIPC set tend to differ considerably and match reference alignments less successfully than the SISY set alignments.


The alignments produced by different methods tend to agree to a considerable extent, but the agreement is lower for the more challenging pairs. The results for the comparison to reference alignments are encouraging, but also indicate that there is still room for improvement.