A quantitative analysis of interfacial amino acid conservation in protein-protein hetero complexes

Boojala Vijay B. Reddy, Yiannis N. Kaznessis

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10 Scopus citations


A long-standing question in molecular biology is whether interfaces of protein-protein complexes are more conserved than the rest of the protein surfaces. Although it has been reported that conservation can be used as an indicator for predicting interaction sites on proteins, there are recent reports stating that the interface regions are only slightly more conserved than the rest of the protein surfaces, with conservation signals not being statistically significant enough for predicting protein-protein binding sites. In order to properly address these controversial reports we have studied a set of 28 well resolved hetero complex structures of proteins that consists of transient and non-transient complexes. The surface positions were classified into four conservation classes and the conservation index of the surface positions was quantitatively analyzed. The results indicate that the surface density of highly conserved positions is significantly higher in the protein-protein interface regions compared with the other regions of the protein surface. However, the average conservation index of the patches in the interface region is not significantly higher compared with other surface regions of the protein structures. This finding demonstrates that the number of conserved residue positions is a more appropriate indicator for predicting protein-protein binding sites than the average conservation index in the interacting region. We have further validated our findings on a set of 59 benchmark complex structures. Furthermore, an analysis of 19 complexes of antigen-antibody interactions shows that there is no conservation of amino acid positions in the interacting regions of these complexes, as expected, with the variable region of the immunoglobulins interacting mostly with the antigens. Interestingly, antigen interacting regions also have a higher number of non-conserved residue positions in the interacting region than the rest of the protein surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1137-1150
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the support from the Digital Technology Center, University of Minnesota. This work was also partially supported by the University of Minnesota Bioinformatics Institute and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Grant (Award no. G7-38758).


  • Docking
  • Molecular recognition
  • Protein complexes
  • Protein evolution
  • Protein-protein interaction
  • Sequence conservation


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