Using anchoring motifs for the computational design of protein-protein interactions

Biochem Soc Trans. 2013 Oct;41(5):1141-5. doi: 10.1042/BST20130108.


The computer-based design of PPIs (protein-protein interactions) is a challenging problem because large desolvation and entropic penalties must be overcome by the creation of favourable hydrophobic and polar contacts at the target interface. Indeed, many computationally designed interactions fail to form when tested in the laboratory. In the present article, we highlight strategies our laboratory has been pursuing to make interface design more tractable. Our general approach has been to make use of structural motifs found in native proteins that are predisposed to interact with a particular binding geometry, and then further bolster these anchor points with favourable hydrophobic contacts. We describe the use of three different anchor points, i.e. β-strand pairing, metal binding and the docking of α-helix into a groove, to successfully design new interfaces. In several cases, high-resolution crystal structures show that the design models closely match the experimental structure. In addition, we have tested the use of buried hydrogen-bond networks as a source of affinity and specificity at interfaces. In these cases, the designed complexes did not form, highlighting the challenges associated with designing buried polar interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs / genetics*
  • Computational Biology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Interaction Maps*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics


  • Proteins