PocketAlign a novel algorithm for aligning binding sites in protein structures

J Chem Inf Model. 2011 Jul 25;51(7):1725-36. doi: 10.1021/ci200132z. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


A fundamental task in bioinformatics involves a transfer of knowledge from one protein molecule onto another by way of recognizing similarities. Such similarities are obtained at different levels, that of sequence, whole fold, or important substructures. Comparison of binding sites is important to understand functional similarities among the proteins and also to understand drug cross-reactivities. Current methods in literature have their own merits and demerits, warranting exploration of newer concepts and algorithms, especially for large-scale comparisons and for obtaining accurate residue-wise mappings. Here, we report the development of a new algorithm, PocketAlign, for obtaining structural superpositions of binding sites. The software is available as a web-service at http://proline.physics.iisc.ernet.in/pocketalign/. The algorithm encodes shape descriptors in the form of geometric perspectives, supplemented by chemical group classification. The shape descriptor considers several perspectives with each residue as the focus and captures relative distribution of residues around it in a given site. Residue-wise pairings are computed by comparing the set of perspectives of the first site with that of the second, followed by a greedy approach that incrementally combines residue pairings into a mapping. The mappings in different frames are then evaluated by different metrics encoding the extent of alignment of individual geometric perspectives. Different initial seed alignments are computed, each subsequently extended by detecting consequential atomic alignments in a three-dimensional grid, and the best 500 stored in a database. Alignments are then ranked, and the top scoring alignments reported, which are then streamed into Pymol for visualization and analyses. The method is validated for accuracy and sensitivity and benchmarked against existing methods. An advantage of PocketAlign, as compared to some of the existing tools available for binding site comparison in literature, is that it explores different schemes for identifying an alignment thus has a better potential to capture similarities in ligand recognition abilities. PocketAlign, by finding a detailed alignment of a pair of sites, provides insights as to why two sites are similar and which set of residues and atoms contribute to the similarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Binding Sites
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Software Design


  • Proteins