Background: In a number of protein-protein complexes, the 3D structures of bound and unbound partners significantly differ, supporting the induced fit hypothesis for protein-protein binding.
Results: In this study, we explore the induced fit modifications on a set of 124 proteins available in both bound and unbound forms, in terms of local structure. The local structure is described thanks to a structural alphabet of 27 structural letters that allows a detailed description of the backbone. Using a control set to distinguish induced fit from experimental error and natural protein flexibility, we show that the fraction of structural letters modified upon binding is significantly greater than in the control set (36% versus 28%). This proportion is even greater in the interface regions (41%). Interface regions preferentially involve coils. Our analysis further reveals that some structural letters in coil are not favored in the interface. We show that certain structural letters in coil are particularly subject to modifications at the interface, and that the severity of structural change also varies. These information are used to derive a structural letter substitution matrix that summarizes the local structural changes observed in our data set. We also illustrate the usefulness of our approach to identify common binding motifs in unrelated proteins.
Conclusion: Our study provides qualitative information about induced fit. These results could be of help for flexible docking.