Structural similarity to link sequence space: new potential superfamilies and implications for structural genomics

Protein Sci. 2002 May;11(5):1101-16. doi: 10.1110/ps.3950102.


The current pace of structural biology now means that protein three-dimensional structure can be known before protein function, making methods for assigning homology via structure comparison of growing importance. Previous research has suggested that sequence similarity after structure-based alignment is one of the best discriminators of homology and often functional similarity. Here, we exploit this observation, together with a merger of protein structure and sequence databases, to predict distant homologous relationships. We use the Structural Classification of Proteins (SCOP) database to link sequence alignments from the SMART and Pfam databases. We thus provide new alignments that could not be constructed easily in the absence of known three-dimensional structures. We then extend the method of Murzin (1993b) to assign statistical significance to sequence identities found after structural alignment and thus suggest the best link between diverse sequence families. We find that several distantly related protein sequence families can be linked with confidence, showing the approach to be a means for inferring homologous relationships and thus possible functions when proteins are of known structure but of unknown function. The analysis also finds several new potential superfamilies, where inspection of the associated alignments and superimpositions reveals conservation of unusual structural features or co-location of conserved amino acids and bound substrates. We discuss implications for Structural Genomics initiatives and for improvements to sequence comparison methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Databases, Protein
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Genomics*
  • Micrococcal Nuclease / chemistry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family*
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Sugar Phosphotransferase System / chemistry
  • Poly(A)-Binding Proteins
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Sequence Alignment*


  • Poly(A)-Binding Proteins
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Phosphoenolpyruvate Sugar Phosphotransferase System
  • phosphoenolpyruvate-glucose phosphotransferase
  • Micrococcal Nuclease