The observation of a limited secondary-structural alphabet in native proteins, with significant sequence preferences, has profoundly influenced the fields of protein design and structure prediction (Simons, Kooperberg, Huang, & Baker, 1997; Verschueren et al., 2011). In the era of structural genomics, as the size of the structural dataset continues to grow rapidly, it is becoming possible to extend this analysis to tertiary structural motifs and their sequences. For a hypothetical tertiary motif, the rate of its utilization in natural proteins may be used to assess its designability-the ease with which the motif can be realized with natural amino acids. This requires a structural similarity search methodology, which rather than looking for global topological agreement (more appropriate for categorization of full proteins or domains), identifies detailed geometric matches. In this chapter, we introduce such a method, called MaDCaT, and demonstrate its use by assessing the designability landscapes of two tertiary structural motifs. We also show that such analysis can establish structure/sequence links by providing the sequence constraints necessary to encode designable motifs. As logical extension of their secondary-structure counterparts, tertiary structural preferences will likely prove extremely useful in de novo protein design and structure prediction.
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