Deciphering the structural determinants of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) is essential to gain a deep understanding of many important biological functions in the living cells. Computational approaches for the structural modeling of PPIs, such as protein-protein docking, are quite needed to complement existing experimental techniques. The reliability of a protein-protein docking method is dependent on the ability of the scoring function to accurately distinguish the near-native binding structures from a huge number of decoys. In this study, we developed HawkRank, a novel scoring function designed for the sampling stage of protein-protein docking by summing the contributions from several energy terms, including van der Waals potentials, electrostatic potentials and desolvation potentials. First, based on the solvation free energies predicted by the Generalized Born model for ~ 800 proteins, a SASA (solvent accessible surface area)-based solvation model was developed, which can give the aqueous solvation free energies for proteins by summing the contributions of 21 atom types. Then, the van der Waals potentials and electrostatic potentials based on the Amber ff14SB force field were computed. Finally, the HawkRank scoring function was derived by determining the most optimal weights for five energy terms based on the training set. Here, MSR (modified success rate), a novel protein-protein scoring quality index, was used to assess the performance of HawkRank and three other popular protein-protein scoring functions, including ZRANK, FireDock and dDFIRE. The results show that HawkRank outperformed the other three scoring functions according to the total number of hits and MSR. HawkRank is available at http://cadd.zju.edu.cn/programs/hawkrank .
Keywords: Docking; HawkRank; Protein–protein interaction; Scoring.