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1.  Powerful fusion: PSI-BLAST and consensus sequences 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(18):1987-1993.
Motivation: A typical PSI-BLAST search consists of iterative scanning and alignment of a large sequence database during which a scoring profile is progressively built and refined. Such a profile can also be stored and used to search against a different database of sequences. Using it to search against a database of consensus rather than native sequences is a simple add-on that boosts performance surprisingly well. The improvement comes at a price: we hypothesized that random alignment score statistics would differ between native and consensus sequences. Thus PSI-BLAST-based profile searches against consensus sequences might incorrectly estimate statistical significance of alignment scores. In addition, iterative searches against consensus databases may fail. Here, we addressed these challenges in an attempt to harness the full power of the combination of PSI-BLAST and consensus sequences.
Results: We studied alignment score statistics for various types of consensus sequences. In general, the score distribution parameters of profile-based consensus sequence alignments differed significantly from those derived for the native sequences. PSI-BLAST partially compensated for the parameter variation. We have identified a protocol for building specialized consensus sequences that significantly improved search sensitivity and preserved score distribution parameters. As a result, PSI-BLAST profiles can be used to search specialized consensus sequences without sacrificing estimates of statistical significance. We also provided results indicating that iterative PSI-BLAST searches against consensus sequences could work very well. Overall, we showed how a very popular and effective method could be used to identify significantly more relevant similarities among protein sequences.
PMCID: PMC2577777  PMID: 18678588
2.  Consensus sequences improve PSI-BLAST through mimicking profile–profile alignments 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(7):2238-2246.
Sequence alignments may be the most fundamental computational resource for molecular biology. The best methods that identify sequence relatedness through profile–profile comparisons are much slower and more complex than sequence–sequence and sequence–profile comparisons such as, respectively, BLAST and PSI-BLAST. Families of related genes and gene products (proteins) can be represented by consensus sequences that list the nucleic/amino acid most frequent at each sequence position in that family. Here, we propose a novel approach for consensus-sequence-based comparisons. This approach improved searches and alignments as a standard add-on to PSI-BLAST without any changes of code. Improvements were particularly significant for more difficult tasks such as the identification of distant structural relations between proteins and their corresponding alignments. Despite the fact that the improvements were higher for more divergent relations, they were consistent even at high accuracy/low error rates for non-trivially related proteins. The improvements were very easy to achieve; no parameter used by PSI-BLAST was altered and no single line of code changed. Furthermore, the consensus sequence add-on required relatively little additional CPU time. We discuss how advanced users of PSI-BLAST can immediately benefit from using consensus sequences on their local computers. We have also made the method available through the Internet (
PMCID: PMC1874647  PMID: 17369271
3.  PHOG-BLAST – a new generation tool for fast similarity search of protein families 
The need to compare protein profiles frequently arises in various protein research areas: comparison of protein families, domain searches, resolution of orthology and paralogy. The existing fast algorithms can only compare a protein sequence with a protein sequence and a profile with a sequence. Algorithms to compare profiles use dynamic programming and complex scoring functions.
We developed a new algorithm called PHOG-BLAST for fast similarity search of profiles. This algorithm uses profile discretization to convert a profile to a finite alphabet and utilizes hashing for fast search. To determine the optimal alphabet, we analyzed columns in reliable multiple alignments and obtained column clusters in the 20-dimensional profile space by applying a special clustering procedure. We show that the clustering procedure works best if its parameters are chosen so that 20 profile clusters are obtained which can be interpreted as ancestral amino acid residues. With these clusters, only less than 2% of columns in multiple alignments are out of clusters. We tested the performance of PHOG-BLAST vs. PSI-BLAST on three well-known databases of multiple alignments: COG, PFAM and BALIBASE. On the COG database both algorithms showed the same performance, on PFAM and BALIBASE PHOG-BLAST was much superior to PSI-BLAST. PHOG-BLAST required 10–20 times less computer memory and computation time than PSI-BLAST.
Since PHOG-BLAST can compare multiple alignments of protein families, it can be used in different areas of comparative proteomics and protein evolution. For example, PHOG-BLAST helped to build the PHOG database of phylogenetic orthologous groups. An essential step in building this database was comparing protein complements of different species and orthologous groups of different taxons on a personal computer in reasonable time. When it is applied to detect weak similarity between protein families, PHOG-BLAST is less precise than rigorous profile-profile comparison method, though it runs much faster and can be used as a hit pre-selecting tool.
PMCID: PMC1522020  PMID: 16792802
4.  Domain enhanced lookup time accelerated BLAST 
Biology Direct  2012;7:12.
BLAST is a commonly-used software package for comparing a query sequence to a database of known sequences; in this study, we focus on protein sequences. Position-specific-iterated BLAST (PSI-BLAST) iteratively searches a protein sequence database, using the matches in round i to construct a position-specific score matrix (PSSM) for searching the database in round i + 1. Biegert and Söding developed Context-sensitive BLAST (CS-BLAST), which combines information from searching the sequence database with information derived from a library of short protein profiles to achieve better homology detection than PSI-BLAST, which builds its PSSMs from scratch.
We describe a new method, called domain enhanced lookup time accelerated BLAST (DELTA-BLAST), which searches a database of pre-constructed PSSMs before searching a protein-sequence database, to yield better homology detection. For its PSSMs, DELTA-BLAST employs a subset of NCBI’s Conserved Domain Database (CDD). On a test set derived from ASTRAL, with one round of searching, DELTA-BLAST achieves a ROC5000 of 0.270 vs. 0.116 for CS-BLAST. The performance advantage diminishes in iterated searches, but DELTA-BLAST continues to achieve better ROC scores than CS-BLAST.
DELTA-BLAST is a useful program for the detection of remote protein homologs. It is available under the “Protein BLAST” link at
This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Nick V. Grishin, and Frank Eisenhaber.
PMCID: PMC3438057  PMID: 22510480
5.  PSI-Search: iterative HOE-reduced profile SSEARCH searching 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(12):1650-1651.
Summary: Iterative similarity searches with PSI-BLAST position-specific score matrices (PSSMs) find many more homologs than single searches, but PSSMs can be contaminated when homologous alignments are extended into unrelated protein domains—homologous over-extension (HOE). PSI-Search combines an optimal Smith–Waterman local alignment sequence search, using SSEARCH, with the PSI-BLAST profile construction strategy. An optional sequence boundary-masking procedure, which prevents alignments from being extended after they are initially included, can reduce HOE errors in the PSSM profile. Preventing HOE improves selectivity for both PSI-BLAST and PSI-Search, but PSI-Search has ~4-fold better selectivity than PSI-BLAST and similar sensitivity at 50% and 60% family coverage. PSI-Search is also produces 2- for 4-fold fewer false-positives than JackHMMER, but is ~5% less sensitive.
Availability and implementation: PSI-Search is available from the authors as a standalone implementation written in Perl for Linux-compatible platforms. It is also available through a web interface ( and SOAP and REST Web Services (
PMCID: PMC3371869  PMID: 22539666
6.  A comparison of profile hidden Markov model procedures for remote homology detection 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(19):4321-4328.
Profile hidden Markov models (HMMs) are amongst the most successful procedures for detecting remote homology between proteins. There are two popular profile HMM programs, HMMER and SAM. Little is known about their performance relative to each other and to the recently improved version of PSI-BLAST. Here we compare the two programs to each other and to non-HMM methods, to determine their relative performance and the features that are important for their success. The quality of the multiple sequence alignments used to build models was the most important factor affecting the overall performance of profile HMMs. The SAM T99 procedure is needed to produce high quality alignments automatically, and the lack of an equivalent component in HMMER makes it less complete as a package. Using the default options and parameters as would be expected of an inexpert user, it was found that from identical alignments SAM consistently produces better models than HMMER and that the relative performance of the model-scoring components varies. On average, HMMER was found to be between one and three times faster than SAM when searching databases larger than 2000 sequences, SAM being faster on smaller ones. Both methods were shown to have effective low complexity and repeat sequence masking using their null models, and the accuracy of their E-values was comparable. It was found that the SAM T99 iterative database search procedure performs better than the most recent version of PSI-BLAST, but that scoring of PSI-BLAST profiles is more than 30 times faster than scoring of SAM models.
PMCID: PMC140544  PMID: 12364612
7.  Pairwise statistical significance of local sequence alignment using multiple parameter sets and empirical justification of parameter set change penalty 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10(Suppl 3):S1.
Accurate estimation of statistical significance of a pairwise alignment is an important problem in sequence comparison. Recently, a comparative study of pairwise statistical significance with database statistical significance was conducted. In this paper, we extend the earlier work on pairwise statistical significance by incorporating with it the use of multiple parameter sets.
Results for a knowledge discovery application of homology detection reveal that using multiple parameter sets for pairwise statistical significance estimates gives better coverage than using a single parameter set, at least at some error levels. Further, the results of pairwise statistical significance using multiple parameter sets are shown to be significantly better than database statistical significance estimates reported by BLAST and PSI-BLAST, and comparable and at times significantly better than SSEARCH. Using non-zero parameter set change penalty values give better performance than zero penalty.
The fact that the homology detection performance does not degrade when using multiple parameter sets is a strong evidence for the validity of the assumption that the alignment score distribution follows an extreme value distribution even when using multiple parameter sets. Parameter set change penalty is a useful parameter for alignment using multiple parameter sets. Pairwise statistical significance using multiple parameter sets can be effectively used to determine the relatedness of a (or a few) pair(s) of sequences without performing a time-consuming database search.
PMCID: PMC2665049  PMID: 19344477
8.  Gapped BLAST and PSI-BLAST: a new generation of protein database search programs. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1997;25(17):3389-3402.
The BLAST programs are widely used tools for searching protein and DNA databases for sequence similarities. For protein comparisons, a variety of definitional, algorithmic and statistical refinements described here permits the execution time of the BLAST programs to be decreased substantially while enhancing their sensitivity to weak similarities. A new criterion for triggering the extension of word hits, combined with a new heuristic for generating gapped alignments, yields a gapped BLAST program that runs at approximately three times the speed of the original. In addition, a method is introduced for automatically combining statistically significant alignments produced by BLAST into a position-specific score matrix, and searching the database using this matrix. The resulting Position-Specific Iterated BLAST (PSI-BLAST) program runs at approximately the same speed per iteration as gapped BLAST, but in many cases is much more sensitive to weak but biologically relevant sequence similarities. PSI-BLAST is used to uncover several new and interesting members of the BRCT superfamily.
PMCID: PMC146917  PMID: 9254694
9.  PairsDB atlas of protein sequence space 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;36(Database issue):D276-D280.
Sequence similarity/database searching is a cornerstone of molecular biology. PairsDB is a database intended to make exploring protein sequences and their similarity relationships quick and easy. Behind PairsDB is a comprehensive collection of protein sequences and BLAST and PSI-BLAST alignments between them. Instead of running BLAST or PSI-BLAST individually on each request, results are retrieved instantaneously from a database of pre-computed alignments. Filtering options allow you to find a set of sequences satisfying a set of criteria—for example, all human proteins with solved structure and without transmembrane segments. PairsDB is continually updated and covers all sequences in Uniprot. The data is stored in a MySQL relational database. Data files will be made available for download at PairsDB can also be accessed interactively at PairsDB data is a valuable platform to build various downstream automated analysis pipelines. For example, the graph of all-against-all similarity relationships is the starting point for clustering protein families, delineating domains, improving alignment accuracy by consistency measures, and defining orthologous genes. Moreover, query-anchored stacked sequence alignments, profiles and consensus sequences are useful in studies of sequence conservation patterns for clues about possible functional sites.
PMCID: PMC2238971  PMID: 17986464
10.  DescFold: A web server for protein fold recognition 
BMC Bioinformatics  2009;10:416.
Machine learning-based methods have been proven to be powerful in developing new fold recognition tools. In our previous work [Zhang, Kochhar and Grigorov (2005) Protein Science, 14: 431-444], a machine learning-based method called DescFold was established by using Support Vector Machines (SVMs) to combine the following four descriptors: a profile-sequence-alignment-based descriptor using Psi-blast e-values and bit scores, a sequence-profile-alignment-based descriptor using Rps-blast e-values and bit scores, a descriptor based on secondary structure element alignment (SSEA), and a descriptor based on the occurrence of PROSITE functional motifs. In this work, we focus on the improvement of DescFold by incorporating more powerful descriptors and setting up a user-friendly web server.
In seeking more powerful descriptors, the profile-profile alignment score generated from the COMPASS algorithm was first considered as a new descriptor (i.e., PPA). When considering a profile-profile alignment between two proteins in the context of fold recognition, one protein is regarded as a template (i.e., its 3D structure is known). Instead of a sequence profile derived from a Psi-blast search, a structure-seeded profile for the template protein was generated by searching its structural neighbors with the assistance of the TM-align structural alignment algorithm. Moreover, the COMPASS algorithm was used again to derive a profile-structural-profile-alignment-based descriptor (i.e., PSPA). We trained and tested the new DescFold in a total of 1,835 highly diverse proteins extracted from the SCOP 1.73 version. When the PPA and PSPA descriptors were introduced, the new DescFold boosts the performance of fold recognition substantially. Using the SCOP_1.73_40% dataset as the fold library, the DescFold web server based on the trained SVM models was further constructed. To provide a large-scale test for the new DescFold, a stringent test set of 1,866 proteins were selected from the SCOP 1.75 version. At a less than 5% false positive rate control, the new DescFold is able to correctly recognize structural homologs at the fold level for nearly 46% test proteins. Additionally, we also benchmarked the DescFold method against several well-established fold recognition algorithms through the LiveBench targets and Lindahl dataset.
The new DescFold method was intensively benchmarked to have very competitive performance compared with some well-established fold recognition methods, suggesting that it can serve as a useful tool to assist in template-based protein structure prediction. The DescFold server is freely accessible at
PMCID: PMC2803855  PMID: 20003426
11.  Homologous over-extension: a challenge for iterative similarity searches 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(7):2177-2189.
We have characterized a novel type of PSI-BLAST error, homologous over-extension (HOE), using embedded PFAM domain queries on searches against a reference library containing Pfam-annotated UniProt sequences and random synthetic sequences. PSI-BLAST makes two types of errors: alignments to non-homologous regions and HOE alignments that begin in a homologous region, but extend beyond the homology into neighboring sequence regions. When the neighboring sequence region contains a non-homologous domain, PSI-BLAST can incorporate the unrelated sequence into its position specific scoring matrix, which then finds non-homologous proteins with significant expectation values. HOE accounts for the largest fraction of the initial false positive (FP) errors, and the largest fraction of FPs at iteration 5. In searches against complete protein sequences, 5–9% of alignments at iteration 5 are non-homologous. HOE frequently begins in a partial protein domain; when partial domains are removed from the library, HOE errors decrease from 16 to 3% of weighted coverage (hard queries; 35–5% for sampled queries) and no-error searches increase from 2 to 58% weighed coverage (hard; 16–78% sampled). When HOE is reduced by not extending previously found sequences, PSI-BLAST specificity improves 4–8-fold, with little loss in sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC2853128  PMID: 20064877
12.  Hidden Markov model speed heuristic and iterative HMM search procedure 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:431.
Profile hidden Markov models (profile-HMMs) are sensitive tools for remote protein homology detection, but the main scoring algorithms, Viterbi or Forward, require considerable time to search large sequence databases.
We have designed a series of database filtering steps, HMMERHEAD, that are applied prior to the scoring algorithms, as implemented in the HMMER package, in an effort to reduce search time. Using this heuristic, we obtain a 20-fold decrease in Forward and a 6-fold decrease in Viterbi search time with a minimal loss in sensitivity relative to the unfiltered approaches. We then implemented an iterative profile-HMM search method, JackHMMER, which employs the HMMERHEAD heuristic. Due to our search heuristic, we eliminated the subdatabase creation that is common in current iterative profile-HMM approaches. On our benchmark, JackHMMER detects 14% more remote protein homologs than SAM's iterative method T2K.
Our search heuristic, HMMERHEAD, significantly reduces the time needed to score a profile-HMM against large sequence databases. This search heuristic allowed us to implement an iterative profile-HMM search method, JackHMMER, which detects significantly more remote protein homologs than SAM's T2K and NCBI's PSI-BLAST.
PMCID: PMC2931519  PMID: 20718988
13.  SIB-BLAST: a web server for improved delineation of true and false positives in PSI-BLAST searches 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(Web Server issue):W53-W56.
A SIB-BLAST web server ( has been established for investigators to use the SimpleIsBeautiful (SIB) algorithm for sequence-based homology detection. SIB was developed to overcome the model corruption frequently observed in the later iterations of PSI-BLAST searches. The algorithm compares resultant hits from the second iteration to the final iteration of a PSI-BLAST search, calculates the figure of merit for each ‘overlapped’ hit and re-ranks the hits according to their figure of merit. By validating hits generated from the last profile against hits from the first profile when the model is least corrupted, the true and false positives are better delineated, which in turn, improves the accuracy of iterative PSI-BLAST searches. Notably, this improvement to PSI-BLAST comes at minimal computational cost as SIB-BLAST utilizes existing results already produced in a PSI-BLAST search.
PMCID: PMC2703926  PMID: 19429693
14.  Accelerated Profile HMM Searches 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(10):e1002195.
Profile hidden Markov models (profile HMMs) and probabilistic inference methods have made important contributions to the theory of sequence database homology search. However, practical use of profile HMM methods has been hindered by the computational expense of existing software implementations. Here I describe an acceleration heuristic for profile HMMs, the “multiple segment Viterbi” (MSV) algorithm. The MSV algorithm computes an optimal sum of multiple ungapped local alignment segments using a striped vector-parallel approach previously described for fast Smith/Waterman alignment. MSV scores follow the same statistical distribution as gapped optimal local alignment scores, allowing rapid evaluation of significance of an MSV score and thus facilitating its use as a heuristic filter. I also describe a 20-fold acceleration of the standard profile HMM Forward/Backward algorithms using a method I call “sparse rescaling”. These methods are assembled in a pipeline in which high-scoring MSV hits are passed on for reanalysis with the full HMM Forward/Backward algorithm. This accelerated pipeline is implemented in the freely available HMMER3 software package. Performance benchmarks show that the use of the heuristic MSV filter sacrifices negligible sensitivity compared to unaccelerated profile HMM searches. HMMER3 is substantially more sensitive and 100- to 1000-fold faster than HMMER2. HMMER3 is now about as fast as BLAST for protein searches.
Author Summary
Searching sequence databases is one of the most important applications in computational molecular biology. The main workhorse in the field is the BLAST suite of programs. Since the introduction of BLAST in the 1990's, important theoretical advances in homology search methodology have been made using probabilistic inference methods and hidden Markov models (HMMs). However, previous software implementations of these newer probabilistic methods were slower than BLAST by about 100-fold. This hindered their utility, because computation speed is so critical with the rapidly increasing size of modern sequence databases. Here I describe the acceleration methods I implemented in a new, freely available profile HMM software package, HMMER3. HMMER3 makes profile HMM searches about as fast as BLAST, while retaining the power of using probabilistic inference technology.
PMCID: PMC3197634  PMID: 22039361
15.  The effectiveness of position- and composition-specific gap costs for protein similarity searches 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(13):i15-i23.
Motivation: The flexibility in gap cost enjoyed by hidden Markov models (HMMs) is expected to afford them better retrieval accuracy than position-specific scoring matrices (PSSMs). We attempt to quantify the effect of more general gap parameters by separately examining the influence of position- and composition-specific gap scores, as well as by comparing the retrieval accuracy of the PSSMs constructed using an iterative procedure to that of the HMMs provided by Pfam and SUPERFAMILY, curated ensembles of multiple alignments.
Results: We found that position-specific gap penalties have an advantage over uniform gap costs. We did not explore optimizing distinct uniform gap costs for each query. For Pfam, PSSMs iteratively constructed from seeds based on HMM consensus sequences perform equivalently to HMMs that were adjusted to have constant gap transition probabilities, albeit with much greater variance. We observed no effect of composition-specific gap costs on retrieval performance. These results suggest possible improvements to the PSI-BLAST protein database search program.
Availability: The scripts for performing evaluations are available upon request from the authors.
PMCID: PMC2718649  PMID: 18586708
16.  A Probabilistic Model of Local Sequence Alignment That Simplifies Statistical Significance Estimation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(5):e1000069.
Sequence database searches require accurate estimation of the statistical significance of scores. Optimal local sequence alignment scores follow Gumbel distributions, but determining an important parameter of the distribution (λ) requires time-consuming computational simulation. Moreover, optimal alignment scores are less powerful than probabilistic scores that integrate over alignment uncertainty (“Forward” scores), but the expected distribution of Forward scores remains unknown. Here, I conjecture that both expected score distributions have simple, predictable forms when full probabilistic modeling methods are used. For a probabilistic model of local sequence alignment, optimal alignment bit scores (“Viterbi” scores) are Gumbel-distributed with constant λ = log 2, and the high scoring tail of Forward scores is exponential with the same constant λ. Simulation studies support these conjectures over a wide range of profile/sequence comparisons, using 9,318 profile-hidden Markov models from the Pfam database. This enables efficient and accurate determination of expectation values (E-values) for both Viterbi and Forward scores for probabilistic local alignments.
Author Summary
Sequence database searches are a fundamental tool of molecular biology, enabling researchers to identify related sequences in other organisms, which often provides invaluable clues to the function and evolutionary history of genes. The power of database searches to detect more and more remote evolutionary relationships – essentially, to look back deeper in time – has improved steadily, with the adoption of more complex and realistic models. However, database searches require not just a realistic scoring model, but also the ability to distinguish good scores from bad ones – the ability to calculate the statistical significance of scores. For many models and scoring schemes, accurate statistical significance calculations have either involved expensive computational simulations, or not been feasible at all. Here, I introduce a probabilistic model of local sequence alignment that has readily predictable score statistics for position-specific profile scoring systems, and not just for traditional optimal alignment scores, but also for more powerful log-likelihood ratio scores derived in a full probabilistic inference framework. These results remove one of the main obstacles that have impeded the use of more powerful and biologically realistic statistical inference methods in sequence homology searches.
PMCID: PMC2396288  PMID: 18516236
17.  Improving the accuracy of PSI-BLAST protein database searches with composition-based statistics and other refinements 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(14):2994-3005.
PSI-BLAST is an iterative program to search a database for proteins with distant similarity to a query sequence. We investigated over a dozen modifications to the methods used in PSI-BLAST, with the goal of improving accuracy in finding true positive matches. To evaluate performance we used a set of 103 queries for which the true positives in yeast had been annotated by human experts, and a popular measure of retrieval accuracy (ROC) that can be normalized to take on values between 0 (worst) and 1 (best). The modifications we consider novel improve the ROC score from 0.758 ± 0.005 to 0.895 ± 0.003. This does not include the benefits from four modifications we included in the ‘baseline’ version, even though they were not implemented in PSI-BLAST version 2.0. The improvement in accuracy was confirmed on a small second test set. This test involved analyzing three protein families with curated lists of true positives from the non-redundant protein database. The modification that accounts for the majority of the improvement is the use, for each database sequence, of a position-specific scoring system tuned to that sequence’s amino acid composition. The use of composition-based statistics is particularly beneficial for large-scale automated applications of PSI-BLAST.
PMCID: PMC55814  PMID: 11452024
18.  The Gumbel pre-factor k for gapped local alignment can be estimated from simulations of global alignment 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(15):4987-4994.
The optimal gapped local alignment score of two random sequences follows a Gumbel distribution. The Gumbel distribution has two parameters, the scale parameter λ and the pre-factor k. Presently, the basic local alignment search tool (BLAST) programs (BLASTP (BLAST for proteins), PSI-BLAST, etc.) use all time-consuming computer simulations to determine the Gumbel parameters. Because the simulations must be done offline, BLAST users are restricted in their choice of alignment scoring schemes. The ultimate aim of this paper is to speed the simulations, to determine the Gumbel parameters online, and to remove the corresponding restrictions on BLAST users. Simulations for the scale parameter λ can be as much as five times faster, if they use global instead of local alignment [R. Bundschuh (2002) J. Comput. Biol., 9, 243–260]. Unfortunately, the acceleration does not extend in determining the Gumbel pre-factor k, because k has no known mathematical relationship to global alignment. This paper relates k to global alignment and exploits the relationship to show that for the BLASTP defaults, 10 000 realizations with sequences of average length 140 suffice to estimate both Gumbel parameters λ and k within the errors required (λ, 0.8%; k, 10%). For the BLASTP defaults, simulations for both Gumbel parameters now take less than 30 s on a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor.
PMCID: PMC1199557  PMID: 16147981
19.  Protein Ranking by Semi-Supervised Network Propagation 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7(Suppl 1):S10.
Biologists regularly search DNA or protein databases for sequences that share an evolutionary or functional relationship with a given query sequence. Traditional search methods, such as BLAST and PSI-BLAST, focus on detecting statistically significant pairwise sequence alignments and often miss more subtle sequence similarity. Recent work in the machine learning community has shown that exploiting the global structure of the network defined by these pairwise similarities can help detect more remote relationships than a purely local measure.
We review RankProp, a ranking algorithm that exploits the global network structure of similarity relationships among proteins in a database by performing a diffusion operation on a protein similarity network with weighted edges. The original RankProp algorithm is unsupervised. Here, we describe a semi-supervised version of the algorithm that uses labeled examples. Three possible ways of incorporating label information are considered: (i) as a validation set for model selection, (ii) to learn a new network, by choosing which transfer function to use for a given query, and (iii) to estimate edge weights, which measure the probability of inferring structural similarity.
Benchmarked on a human-curated database of protein structures, the original RankProp algorithm provides significant improvement over local network search algorithms such as PSI-BLAST. Furthermore, we show here that labeled data can be used to learn a network without any need for estimating parameters of the transfer function, and that diffusion on this learned network produces better results than the original RankProp algorithm with a fixed network.
In order to gain maximal information from a network, labeled and unlabeled data should be used to extract both local and global structure.
PMCID: PMC1810311  PMID: 16723003
20.  PSI-BLAST pseudocounts and the minimum description length principle 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;37(3):815-824.
Position specific score matrices (PSSMs) are derived from multiple sequence alignments to aid in the recognition of distant protein sequence relationships. The PSI-BLAST protein database search program derives the column scores of its PSSMs with the aid of pseudocounts, added to the observed amino acid counts in a multiple alignment column. In the absence of theory, the number of pseudocounts used has been a completely empirical parameter. This article argues that the minimum description length principle can motivate the choice of this parameter. Specifically, for realistic alignments, the principle supports the practice of using a number of pseudocounts essentially independent of alignment size. However, it also implies that more highly conserved columns should use fewer pseudocounts, increasing the inter-column contrast of the implied PSSMs. A new method for calculating pseudocounts that significantly improves PSI-BLAST's; retrieval accuracy is now employed by default.
PMCID: PMC2647318  PMID: 19088134
21.  CDD: a database of conserved domain alignments with links to domain three-dimensional structure 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(1):281-283.
The Conserved Domain Database (CDD) is a compilation of multiple sequence alignments representing protein domains conserved in molecular evolution. It has been populated with alignment data from the public collections Pfam and SMART, as well as with contributions from colleagues at NCBI. The current version of CDD (v.1.54) contains 3693 such models. CDD alignments are linked to protein sequence and structure data in Entrez. The molecular structure viewer Cn3D serves as a tool to interactively visualize alignments and three-dimensional structure, and to link three-dimensional residue coordinates to descriptions of evolutionary conservation. CDD can be accessed on the World Wide Web at Protein query sequences may be compared against databases of position-specific score matrices derived from alignments in CDD, using a service named CD-Search, which can be found at CD-Search runs reverse-position-specific BLAST (RPS-BLAST), a variant of the widely used PSI-BLAST algorithm. CD-Search is run by default for protein–protein queries submitted to NCBI’s BLAST service at
PMCID: PMC99109  PMID: 11752315
22.  Predicting residue-wise contact orders in proteins by support vector regression 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:425.
The residue-wise contact order (RWCO) describes the sequence separations between the residues of interest and its contacting residues in a protein sequence. It is a new kind of one-dimensional protein structure that represents the extent of long-range contacts and is considered as a generalization of contact order. Together with secondary structure, accessible surface area, the B factor, and contact number, RWCO provides comprehensive and indispensable important information to reconstructing the protein three-dimensional structure from a set of one-dimensional structural properties. Accurately predicting RWCO values could have many important applications in protein three-dimensional structure prediction and protein folding rate prediction, and give deep insights into protein sequence-structure relationships.
We developed a novel approach to predict residue-wise contact order values in proteins based on support vector regression (SVR), starting from primary amino acid sequences. We explored seven different sequence encoding schemes to examine their effects on the prediction performance, including local sequence in the form of PSI-BLAST profiles, local sequence plus amino acid composition, local sequence plus molecular weight, local sequence plus secondary structure predicted by PSIPRED, local sequence plus molecular weight and amino acid composition, local sequence plus molecular weight and predicted secondary structure, and local sequence plus molecular weight, amino acid composition and predicted secondary structure. When using local sequences with multiple sequence alignments in the form of PSI-BLAST profiles, we could predict the RWCO distribution with a Pearson correlation coefficient (CC) between the predicted and observed RWCO values of 0.55, and root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.82, based on a well-defined dataset with 680 protein sequences. Moreover, by incorporating global features such as molecular weight and amino acid composition we could further improve the prediction performance with the CC to 0.57 and an RMSE of 0.79. In addition, combining the predicted secondary structure by PSIPRED was found to significantly improve the prediction performance and could yield the best prediction accuracy with a CC of 0.60 and RMSE of 0.78, which provided at least comparable performance compared with the other existing methods.
The SVR method shows a prediction performance competitive with or at least comparable to the previously developed linear regression-based methods for predicting RWCO values. In contrast to support vector classification (SVC), SVR is very good at estimating the raw value profiles of the samples. The successful application of the SVR approach in this study reinforces the fact that support vector regression is a powerful tool in extracting the protein sequence-structure relationship and in estimating the protein structural profiles from amino acid sequences.
PMCID: PMC1618864  PMID: 17014735
23.  Prediction of cis/trans isomerization in proteins using PSI-BLAST profiles and secondary structure information 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:124.
The majority of peptide bonds in proteins are found to occur in the trans conformation. However, for proline residues, a considerable fraction of Prolyl peptide bonds adopt the cis form. Proline cis/trans isomerization is known to play a critical role in protein folding, splicing, cell signaling and transmembrane active transport. Accurate prediction of proline cis/trans isomerization in proteins would have many important applications towards the understanding of protein structure and function.
In this paper, we propose a new approach to predict the proline cis/trans isomerization in proteins using support vector machine (SVM). The preliminary results indicated that using Radial Basis Function (RBF) kernels could lead to better prediction performance than that of polynomial and linear kernel functions. We used single sequence information of different local window sizes, amino acid compositions of different local sequences, multiple sequence alignment obtained from PSI-BLAST and the secondary structure information predicted by PSIPRED. We explored these different sequence encoding schemes in order to investigate their effects on the prediction performance. The training and testing of this approach was performed on a newly enlarged dataset of 2424 non-homologous proteins determined by X-Ray diffraction method using 5-fold cross-validation. Selecting the window size 11 provided the best performance for determining the proline cis/trans isomerization based on the single amino acid sequence. It was found that using multiple sequence alignments in the form of PSI-BLAST profiles could significantly improve the prediction performance, the prediction accuracy increased from 62.8% with single sequence to 69.8% and Matthews Correlation Coefficient (MCC) improved from 0.26 with single local sequence to 0.40. Furthermore, if coupled with the predicted secondary structure information by PSIPRED, our method yielded a prediction accuracy of 71.5% and MCC of 0.43, 9% and 0.17 higher than the accuracy achieved based on the singe sequence information, respectively.
A new method has been developed to predict the proline cis/trans isomerization in proteins based on support vector machine, which used the single amino acid sequence with different local window sizes, the amino acid compositions of local sequence flanking centered proline residues, the position-specific scoring matrices (PSSMs) extracted by PSI-BLAST and the predicted secondary structures generated by PSIPRED. The successful application of SVM approach in this study reinforced that SVM is a powerful tool in predicting proline cis/trans isomerization in proteins and biological sequence analysis.
PMCID: PMC1450308  PMID: 16526956
24.  Detection of distant evolutionary relationships between protein families using theory of sequence profile-profile comparison 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:89.
Detection of common evolutionary origin (homology) is a primary means of inferring protein structure and function. At present, comparison of protein families represented as sequence profiles is arguably the most effective homology detection strategy. However, finding the best way to represent evolutionary information of a protein sequence family in the profile, to compare profiles and to estimate the biological significance of such comparisons, remains an active area of research.
Here, we present a new homology detection method based on sequence profile-profile comparison. The method has a number of new features including position-dependent gap penalties and a global score system. Position-dependent gap penalties provide a more biologically relevant way to represent and align protein families as sequence profiles. The global score system enables an analytical solution of the statistical parameters needed to estimate the statistical significance of profile-profile similarities. The new method, together with other state-of-the-art profile-based methods (HHsearch, COMPASS and PSI-BLAST), is benchmarked in all-against-all comparison of a challenging set of SCOP domains that share at most 20% sequence identity. For benchmarking, we use a reference ("gold standard") free model-based evaluation framework. Evaluation results show that at the level of protein domains our method compares favorably to all other tested methods. We also provide examples of the new method outperforming structure-based similarity detection and alignment. The implementation of the new method both as a standalone software package and as a web server is available at
Due to a number of developments, the new profile-profile comparison method shows an improved ability to match distantly related protein domains. Therefore, the method should be useful for annotation and homology modeling of uncharacterized proteins.
PMCID: PMC2837030  PMID: 20158924
25.  Improving gene annotation of complete viral genomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(23):7041-7055.
Gene annotation in viruses often relies upon similarity search methods. These methods possess high specificity but some genes may be missed, either those unique to a particular genome or those highly divergent from known homologs. To identify potentially missing viral genes we have analyzed all complete viral genomes currently available in GenBank with a specialized and augmented version of the gene finding program GeneMarkS. In particular, by implementing genome-specific self-training protocols we have better adjusted the GeneMarkS statistical models to sequences of viral genomes. Hundreds of new genes were identified, some in well studied viral genomes. For example, a new gene predicted in the genome of the Epstein–Barr virus was shown to encode a protein similar to α-herpesvirus minor tegument protein UL14 with heat shock functions. Convincing evidence of this similarity was obtained after only 12 PSI-BLAST iterations. In another example, several iterations of PSI-BLAST were required to demonstrate that a gene predicted in the genome of Alcelaphine herpesvirus 1 encodes a BALF1-like protein which is thought to be involved in apoptosis regulation and, potentially, carcinogenesis. New predictions were used to refine annotations of viral genomes in the RefSeq collection curated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Importantly, even in those cases where no sequence similarities were detected, GeneMarkS significantly reduced the number of primary targets for experimental characterization by identifying the most probable candidate genes. The new genome annotations were stored in VIOLIN, an interactive database which provides access to similarity search tools for up-to-date analysis of predicted viral proteins.
PMCID: PMC290248  PMID: 14627837

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