MOTIVATION - Within a homologous protein family, proteins may be grouped into subtypes that share specific functions that are not common to the entire family. Often, the amino acids present in a small number of sequence positions determine each protein's particular functional specificity. Knowledge of these specificity determining positions (SDPs) aids in protein function prediction, drug design and experimental analysis. A number of sequence-based computational methods have been introduced for identifying SDPs; however, their further development and evaluation have been hindered by the limited number of known experimentally determined SDPs.
RESULTS - We combine several bioinformatics resources to automate a process, typically undertaken manually, to build a dataset of SDPs. The resulting large dataset, which consists of SDPs in enzymes, enables us to characterize SDPs in terms of their physicochemical and evolutionary properties. It also facilitates the large-scale evaluation of sequence-based SDP prediction methods. We present a simple sequence-based SDP prediction method, GroupSim, and show that, surprisingly, it is competitive with a representative set of current methods. We also describe ConsWin, a heuristic that considers sequence conservation of neighboring amino acids, and demonstrate that it improves the performance of all methods tested on our large dataset of enzyme SDPs.
AVAILABILITY - Datasets and GroupSim code are available online at http://compbio.cs.princeton.edu/specificity/.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION - Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.