Determining the residues that are important for the molecular activity of a protein is a topic of broad interest in biomedicine and biotechnology. This knowledge can help understanding the protein's molecular mechanism as well as to fine-tune its natural function eventually with biotechnological or therapeutic implications. Some of the protein residues are essential for the function common to all members of a family of proteins, while others explain the particular specificities of certain subfamilies (like binding on different substrates or cofactors and distinct binding affinities). Owing to the difficulty in experimentally determining them, a number of computational methods were developed to detect these functional residues, generally known as 'specificity-determining positions' (or SDPs), from a collection of homologous protein sequences. These methods are mature enough for being routinely used by molecular biologists in directing experiments aimed at getting insight into the functional specificity of a family of proteins and eventually modifying it. In this review, we summarize some of the recent discoveries achieved through SDP computational identification in a number of relevant protein families, as well as the main approaches and software tools available to perform this type of analysis.
Keywords: multiple sequence alignment (MSA); protein design; protein function; protein functional site; protein functional specificity; specificity-determining position (SDP).
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