A comparison of position-specific score matrices based on sequence and structure alignments

Protein Sci. 2002 Feb;11(2):361-70. doi: 10.1110/ps.19902.


Sequence comparison methods based on position-specific score matrices (PSSMs) have proven a useful tool for recognition of the divergent members of a protein family and for annotation of functional sites. Here we investigate one of the factors that affects overall performance of PSSMs in a PSI-BLAST search, the algorithm used to construct the seed alignment upon which the PSSM is based. We compare PSSMs based on alignments constructed by global sequence similarity (ClustalW and ClustalW-pairwise), local sequence similarity (BLAST), and local structure similarity (VAST). To assess performance with respect to identification of conserved functional or structural sites, we examine the accuracy of the three-dimensional molecular models predicted by PSSM-sequence alignments. Using the known structures of those sequences as the standard of truth, we find that model accuracy varies with the algorithm used for seed alignment construction in the pattern local-structure (VAST) > local-sequence (BLAST) > global-sequence (ClustalW). Using structural similarity of query and database proteins as the standard of truth, we find that PSSM recognition sensitivity depends primarily on the diversity of the sequences included in the alignment, with an optimum around 30-50% average pairwise identity. We discuss these observations, and suggest a strategy for constructing seed alignments that optimize PSSM-sequence alignment accuracy and recognition sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Databases, Factual
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein / methods*
  • Sequence Homology
  • Software


  • Proteins