Understand protein functions by comparing the similarity of local structural environments

Jiawen Chen, Zhong Ru Xie, Yinghao Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The three-dimensional structures of proteins play an essential role in regulating binding between proteins and their partners, offering a direct relationship between structures and functions of proteins. It is widely accepted that the function of a protein can be determined if its structure is similar to other proteins whose functions are known. However, it is also observed that proteins with similar global structures do not necessarily correspond to the same function, while proteins with very different folds can share similar functions. This indicates that function similarity is originated from the local structural information of proteins instead of their global shapes. We assume that proteins with similar local environments prefer binding to similar types of molecular targets. In order to testify this assumption, we designed a new structural indicator to define the similarity of local environment between residues in different proteins. This indicator was further used to calculate the probability that a given residue binds to a specific type of structural neighbors, including DNA, RNA, small molecules and proteins. After applying the method to a large-scale non-redundant database of proteins, we show that the positive signal of binding probability calculated from the local structural indicator is statistically meaningful. In summary, our studies suggested that the local environment of residues in a protein is a good indicator to recognize specific binding partners of the protein. The new method could be a potential addition to a suite of existing template-based approaches for protein function prediction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-152
Number of pages11
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Proteins and Proteomics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Local structural environments
  • Protein binding site prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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