Motivation: Although structured proteins adopt their lowest free energy conformation in physiological conditions, the individual residues are generally not in their lowest free energy conformation. Residues that are stability weaknesses are often involved in functional regions, whereas stability strengths ensure local structural stability. The detection of strengths and weaknesses provides key information to guide protein engineering experiments aiming to modulate folding and various functional processes.
Results: We developed the SWOTein predictor which identifies strong and weak residues in proteins on the basis of three types of statistical energy functions describing local interactions along the chain, hydrophobic forces and tertiary interactions. The large-scale analysis of the different types of strengths and weaknesses demonstrated their complementarity and the enhancement of the information they provide. Moreover, a good average correlation was observed between predicted and experimental strengths and weaknesses obtained from native hydrogen exchange data. SWOTein application to three test cases further showed its suitability to predict and interpret strong and weak residues in the context of folding, conformational changes and protein-protein binding. In summary, SWOTein is both fast and accurate and can be applied at small and large scale to analyze and modulate folding and molecular recognition processes.
Availability: The SWOTein webserver provides the list of predicted strengths and weaknesses and a protein structure visualization tool that facilitates the interpretation of the predictions. It is freely available for academic use at http://babylone.ulb.ac.be/SWOTein/.
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