Structural variations caused by a wide range of physicochemical and biological sources directly influence the function of a protein. For enzymatic proteins, the structure and chemistry of the catalytic binding site residues can be loosely defined as a substructure of the protein. Comparative analysis of drug-receptor substructures across and within species has been used for lead evaluation. Substructure-level similarity between the binding sites of functionally similar proteins has also been used to identify instances of convergent evolution among proteins. In functionally homologous protein families, shared chemistry and geometry at catalytic sites provide a common, local point of comparison among proteins that may differ significantly at the sequence, fold, or domain topology levels.
This paper describes two key results that can be used separately or in combination for protein function analysis. The Family-wise Analysis of SubStructural Templates (FASST) method uses all-against-all substructure comparison to determine Substructural Clusters (SCs). SCs characterize the binding site substructural variation within a protein family. In this paper we focus on examples of automatically determined SCs that can be linked to phylogenetic distance between family members, segregation by conformation, and organization by homology among convergent protein lineages. The Motif Ensemble Statistical Hypothesis (MESH) framework constructs a representative motif for each protein cluster among the SCs determined by FASST to build motif ensembles that are shown through a series of function prediction experiments to improve the function prediction power of existing motifs.
FASST contributes a critical feedback and assessment step to existing binding site substructure identification methods and can be used for the thorough investigation of structure-function relationships. The application of MESH allows for an automated, statistically rigorous procedure for incorporating structural variation data into protein function prediction pipelines. Our work provides an unbiased, automated assessment of the structural variability of identified binding site substructures among protein structure families and a technique for exploring the relation of substructural variation to protein function. As available proteomic data continues to expand, the techniques proposed will be indispensable for the large-scale analysis and interpretation of structural data.