Sequence and structural features of carbohydrate binding in proteins and assessment of predictability using a neural network

BMC Struct Biol. 2007 Jan 3;7:1. doi: 10.1186/1472-6807-7-1.


Background: Protein-Carbohydrate interactions are crucial in many biological processes with implications to drug targeting and gene expression. Nature of protein-carbohydrate interactions may be studied at individual residue level by analyzing local sequence and structure environments in binding regions in comparison to non-binding regions, which provide an inherent control for such analyses. With an ultimate aim of predicting binding sites from sequence and structure, overall statistics of binding regions needs to be compiled. Sequence-based predictions of binding sites have been successfully applied to DNA-binding proteins in our earlier works. We aim to apply similar analysis to carbohydrate binding proteins. However, due to a relatively much smaller region of proteins taking part in such interactions, the methodology and results are significantly different. A comparison of protein-carbohydrate complexes has also been made with other protein-ligand complexes.

Results: We have compiled statistics of amino acid compositions in binding versus non-binding regions- general as well as in each different secondary structure conformation. Binding propensities of each of the 20 residue types and their structure features such as solvent accessibility, packing density and secondary structure have been calculated to assess their predisposition to carbohydrate interactions. Finally, evolutionary profiles of amino acid sequences have been used to predict binding sites using a neural network. Another set of neural networks was trained using information from single sequences and the prediction performance from the evolutionary profiles and single sequences were compared. Best of the neural network based prediction could achieve an 87% sensitivity of prediction at 23% specificity for all carbohydrate-binding sites, using evolutionary information. Single sequences gave 68% sensitivity and 55% specificity for the same data set. Sensitivity and specificity for a limited galactose binding data set were obtained as 63% and 79% respectively for evolutionary information and 62% and 68% sensitivity and specificity for single sequences. Propensity and other sequence and structural features of carbohydrate binding sites have also been compared with our similar extensive studies on DNA-binding proteins and also with protein-ligand complexes.

Conclusion: Carbohydrates typically show a preference to bind aromatic residues and most prominently tryptophan. Higher exposed surface area of binding sites indicates a role of hydrophobic interactions. Neural networks give a moderate success of prediction, which is expected to improve when structures of more protein-carbohydrate complexes become available in future.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry*
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Carbohydrates
  • Ligands
  • Proteins