Detection of significant protein coevolution

Bioinformatics. 2015 Jul 1;31(13):2166-73. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btv102. Epub 2015 Feb 24.


Motivation: The evolution of proteins cannot be fully understood without taking into account the coevolutionary linkages entangling them. From a practical point of view, coevolution between protein families has been used as a way of detecting protein interactions and functional relationships from genomic information. The most common approach to inferring protein coevolution involves the quantification of phylogenetic tree similarity using a family of methodologies termed mirrortree. In spite of their success, a fundamental problem of these approaches is the lack of an adequate statistical framework to assess the significance of a given coevolutionary score (tree similarity). As a consequence, a number of ad hoc filters and arbitrary thresholds are required in an attempt to obtain a final set of confident coevolutionary signals.

Results: In this work, we developed a method for associating confidence estimators (P values) to the tree-similarity scores, using a null model specifically designed for the tree comparison problem. We show how this approach largely improves the quality and coverage (number of pairs that can be evaluated) of the detected coevolution in all the stages of the mirrortree workflow, independently of the starting genomic information. This not only leads to a better understanding of protein coevolution and its biological implications, but also to obtain a highly reliable and comprehensive network of predicted interactions, as well as information on the substructure of macromolecular complexes using only genomic information.

Availability and implementation: The software and datasets used in this work are freely available at:


Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Protein
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Macromolecular Substances / chemistry*
  • Phylogeny
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein
  • Software


  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Proteins