Stochastic sampling of the RNA structural alignment space

Nucleic Acids Res. 2009 Jul;37(12):4063-75. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp276. Epub 2009 May 8.


A novel method is presented for predicting the common secondary structures and alignment of two homologous RNA sequences by sampling the 'structural alignment' space, i.e. the joint space of their alignments and common secondary structures. The structural alignment space is sampled according to a pseudo-Boltzmann distribution based on a pseudo-free energy change that combines base pairing probabilities from a thermodynamic model and alignment probabilities from a hidden Markov model. By virtue of the implicit comparative analysis between the two sequences, the method offers an improvement over single sequence sampling of the Boltzmann ensemble. A cluster analysis shows that the samples obtained from joint sampling of the structural alignment space cluster more closely than samples generated by the single sequence method. On average, the representative (centroid) structure and alignment of the most populated cluster in the sample of structures and alignments generated by joint sampling are more accurate than single sequence sampling and alignment based on sequence alone, respectively. The 'best' centroid structure that is closest to the known structure among all the centroids is, on average, more accurate than structure predictions of other methods. Additionally, cluster analysis identifies, on average, a few clusters, whose centroids can be presented as alternative candidates. The source code for the proposed method can be downloaded at

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • Sequence Alignment / methods*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA*
  • Stochastic Processes


  • RNA