The error in protein tertiary structure prediction is unavoidable, but it is not explicitly shown in most of the current prediction algorithms. Estimated error of a predicted structure is crucial information for experimental biologists to use the prediction model for design and interpretation of experiments. Here, we propose a method to estimate errors in predicted structures based on the stability of the optimal target-template alignment when compared with a set of suboptimal alignments. The stability of the optimal alignment is quantified by an index named the SuboPtimal Alignment Diversity (SPAD). We implemented SPAD in a profile-based threading algorithm and investigated how well SPAD can indicate errors in threading models using a large benchmark dataset of 5232 alignments. SPAD shows a very good correlation not only to alignment shift errors but also structure-level errors, the root mean square deviation (RMSD) of predicted structure models to the native structures (i.e. global errors), and local errors at each residue position. We have further compared SPAD with seven other quality measures, six from sequence alignment-based measures and one atomic statistical potential, discrete optimized protein energy (DOPE), in terms of the correlation coefficient to the global and local structure-level errors. In terms of the correlation to the RMSD of structure models, when a target and a template are in the same SCOP family, the sequence identity showed a best correlation to the RMSD; in the superfamily level, SPAD was the best; and in the fold level, DOPE was best. However, in a head-to-head comparison, SPAD wins over the other measures. Next, SPAD is compared with three other measures of local errors. In this comparison, SPAD was best in all of the family, the superfamily and the fold levels. Using the discovered correlation, we have also predicted the global and local error of our predicted structures of CASP7 targets by the SPAD. Finally, we proposed a sausage representation of predicted tertiary structures which intuitively indicate the predicted structure and the estimated error range of the structure simultaneously.
2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.