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1.  HubAlign: an accurate and efficient method for global alignment of protein–protein interaction networks 
Bioinformatics  2014;30(17):i438-i444.
Motivation: High-throughput experimental techniques have produced a large amount of protein–protein interaction (PPI) data. The study of PPI networks, such as comparative analysis, shall benefit the understanding of life process and diseases at the molecular level. One way of comparative analysis is to align PPI networks to identify conserved or species-specific subnetwork motifs. A few methods have been developed for global PPI network alignment, but it still remains challenging in terms of both accuracy and efficiency.
Results: This paper presents a novel global network alignment algorithm, denoted as HubAlign, that makes use of both network topology and sequence homology information, based upon the observation that topologically important proteins in a PPI network usually are much more conserved and thus, more likely to be aligned. HubAlign uses a minimum-degree heuristic algorithm to estimate the topological and functional importance of a protein from the global network topology information. Then HubAlign aligns topologically important proteins first and gradually extends the alignment to the whole network. Extensive tests indicate that HubAlign greatly outperforms several popular methods in terms of both accuracy and efficiency, especially in detecting functionally similar proteins.
Availability: HubAlign is available freely for non-commercial purposes at http://ttic.uchicago.edu/∼hashemifar/software/HubAlign.zip
Contact: jinboxu@gmail.com
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btu450
PMCID: PMC4147903  PMID: 25161231
2.  Protein threading using context-specific alignment potential 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(13):i257-i265.
Motivation: Template-based modeling, including homology modeling and protein threading, is the most reliable method for protein 3D structure prediction. However, alignment errors and template selection are still the main bottleneck for current template-base modeling methods, especially when proteins under consideration are distantly related.
Results: We present a novel context-specific alignment potential for protein threading, including alignment and template selection. Our alignment potential measures the log-odds ratio of one alignment being generated from two related proteins to being generated from two unrelated proteins, by integrating both local and global context-specific information. The local alignment potential quantifies how well one sequence residue can be aligned to one template residue based on context-specific information of the residues. The global alignment potential quantifies how well two sequence residues can be placed into two template positions at a given distance, again based on context-specific information. By accounting for correlation among a variety of protein features and making use of context-specific information, our alignment potential is much more sensitive than the widely used context-independent or profile-based scoring function. Experimental results confirm that our method generates significantly better alignments and threading results than the best profile-based methods on several large benchmarks. Our method works particularly well for distantly related proteins or proteins with sparse sequence profiles because of the effective integration of context-specific, structure and global information.
Availability: http://raptorx.uchicago.edu/download/.
Contact: jinboxu@gmail.com
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btt210
PMCID: PMC3694651  PMID: 23812991
3.  High quality protein sequence alignment by combining structural profile prediction and profile alignment using SABERTOOTH 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:251.
Background
Protein alignments are an essential tool for many bioinformatics analyses. While sequence alignments are accurate for proteins of high sequence similarity, they become unreliable as they approach the so-called 'twilight zone' where sequence similarity gets indistinguishable from random. For such distant pairs, structure alignment is of much better quality. Nevertheless, sequence alignment is the only choice in the majority of cases where structural data is not available. This situation demands development of methods that extend the applicability of accurate sequence alignment to distantly related proteins.
Results
We develop a sequence alignment method that combines the prediction of a structural profile based on the protein's sequence with the alignment of that profile using our recently published alignment tool SABERTOOTH. In particular, we predict the contact vector of protein structures using an artificial neural network based on position-specific scoring matrices generated by PSI-BLAST and align these predicted contact vectors. The resulting sequence alignments are assessed using two different tests: First, we assess the alignment quality by measuring the derived structural similarity for cases in which structures are available. In a second test, we quantify the ability of the significance score of the alignments to recognize structural and evolutionary relationships. As a benchmark we use a representative set of the SCOP (structural classification of proteins) database, with similarities ranging from closely related proteins at SCOP family level, to very distantly related proteins at SCOP fold level. Comparing these results with some prominent sequence alignment tools, we find that SABERTOOTH produces sequence alignments of better quality than those of Clustal W, T-Coffee, MUSCLE, and PSI-BLAST. HHpred, one of the most sophisticated and computationally expensive tools available, outperforms our alignment algorithm at family and superfamily levels, while the use of SABERTOOTH is advantageous for alignments at fold level. Our alignment scheme will profit from future improvements of structural profiles prediction.
Conclusions
We present the automatic sequence alignment tool SABERTOOTH that computes pairwise sequence alignments of very high quality. SABERTOOTH is especially advantageous when applied to alignments of remotely related proteins. The source code is available at http://www.fkp.tu-darmstadt.de/sabertooth_project/, free for academic users upon request.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-251
PMCID: PMC2885375  PMID: 20470364
4.  PROMALS3D: a tool for multiple protein sequence and structure alignments 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(7):2295-2300.
Although multiple sequence alignments (MSAs) are essential for a wide range of applications from structure modeling to prediction of functional sites, construction of accurate MSAs for distantly related proteins remains a largely unsolved problem. The rapidly increasing database of spatial structures is a valuable source to improve alignment quality. We explore the use of 3D structural information to guide sequence alignments constructed by our MSA program PROMALS. The resulting tool, PROMALS3D, automatically identifies homologs with known 3D structures for the input sequences, derives structural constraints through structure-based alignments and combines them with sequence constraints to construct consistency-based multiple sequence alignments. The output is a consensus alignment that brings together sequence and structural information about input proteins and their homologs. PROMALS3D can also align sequences of multiple input structures, with the output representing a multiple structure-based alignment refined in combination with sequence constraints. The advantage of PROMALS3D is that it gives researchers an easy way to produce high-quality alignments consistent with both sequences and structures of proteins. PROMALS3D outperforms a number of existing methods for constructing multiple sequence or structural alignments using both reference-dependent and reference-independent evaluation methods.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkn072
PMCID: PMC2367709  PMID: 18287115
5.  MRFalign: Protein Homology Detection through Alignment of Markov Random Fields 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(3):e1003500.
Sequence-based protein homology detection has been extensively studied and so far the most sensitive method is based upon comparison of protein sequence profiles, which are derived from multiple sequence alignment (MSA) of sequence homologs in a protein family. A sequence profile is usually represented as a position-specific scoring matrix (PSSM) or an HMM (Hidden Markov Model) and accordingly PSSM-PSSM or HMM-HMM comparison is used for homolog detection. This paper presents a new homology detection method MRFalign, consisting of three key components: 1) a Markov Random Fields (MRF) representation of a protein family; 2) a scoring function measuring similarity of two MRFs; and 3) an efficient ADMM (Alternating Direction Method of Multipliers) algorithm aligning two MRFs. Compared to HMM that can only model very short-range residue correlation, MRFs can model long-range residue interaction pattern and thus, encode information for the global 3D structure of a protein family. Consequently, MRF-MRF comparison for remote homology detection shall be much more sensitive than HMM-HMM or PSSM-PSSM comparison. Experiments confirm that MRFalign outperforms several popular HMM or PSSM-based methods in terms of both alignment accuracy and remote homology detection and that MRFalign works particularly well for mainly beta proteins. For example, tested on the benchmark SCOP40 (8353 proteins) for homology detection, PSSM-PSSM and HMM-HMM succeed on 48% and 52% of proteins, respectively, at superfamily level, and on 15% and 27% of proteins, respectively, at fold level. In contrast, MRFalign succeeds on 57.3% and 42.5% of proteins at superfamily and fold level, respectively. This study implies that long-range residue interaction patterns are very helpful for sequence-based homology detection. The software is available for download at http://raptorx.uchicago.edu/download/. A summary of this paper appears in the proceedings of the RECOMB 2014 conference, April 2–5.
Author Summary
Sequence-based protein homology detection has been extensively studied, but it remains very challenging for remote homologs with divergent sequences. So far the most sensitive methods employ HMM-HMM comparison, which models a protein family using HMM (Hidden Markov Model) and then detects homologs using HMM-HMM alignment. HMM cannot model long-range residue interaction patterns and thus, carries very little information regarding the global 3D structure of a protein family. As such, HMM comparison is not sensitive enough for distantly-related homologs. In this paper, we present an MRF-MRF comparison method for homology detection. In particular, we model a protein family using Markov Random Fields (MRF) and then detect homologs by MRF-MRF alignment. Compared to HMM, MRFs are able to model long-range residue interaction pattern and thus, contains information for the overall 3D structure of a protein family. Consequently, MRF-MRF comparison is much more sensitive than HMM-HMM comparison. To implement MRF-MRF comparison, we have developed a new scoring function to measure the similarity of two MRFs and also an efficient ADMM algorithm to optimize the scoring function. Experiments confirm that MRF-MRF comparison indeed outperforms HMM-HMM comparison in terms of both alignment accuracy and remote homology detection, especially for mainly beta proteins.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003500
PMCID: PMC3967925  PMID: 24675572
6.  Kalign – an accurate and fast multiple sequence alignment algorithm 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:298.
Background
The alignment of multiple protein sequences is a fundamental step in the analysis of biological data. It has traditionally been applied to analyzing protein families for conserved motifs, phylogeny, structural properties, and to improve sensitivity in homology searching. The availability of complete genome sequences has increased the demands on multiple sequence alignment (MSA) programs. Current MSA methods suffer from being either too inaccurate or too computationally expensive to be applied effectively in large-scale comparative genomics.
Results
We developed Kalign, a method employing the Wu-Manber string-matching algorithm, to improve both the accuracy and speed of multiple sequence alignment. We compared the speed and accuracy of Kalign to other popular methods using Balibase, Prefab, and a new large test set. Kalign was as accurate as the best other methods on small alignments, but significantly more accurate when aligning large and distantly related sets of sequences. In our comparisons, Kalign was about 10 times faster than ClustalW and, depending on the alignment size, up to 50 times faster than popular iterative methods.
Conclusion
Kalign is a fast and robust alignment method. It is especially well suited for the increasingly important task of aligning large numbers of sequences.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-298
PMCID: PMC1325270  PMID: 16343337
7.  Matt: Local Flexibility Aids Protein Multiple Structure Alignment 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(1):e10.
Even when there is agreement on what measure a protein multiple structure alignment should be optimizing, finding the optimal alignment is computationally prohibitive. One approach used by many previous methods is aligned fragment pair chaining, where short structural fragments from all the proteins are aligned against each other optimally, and the final alignment chains these together in geometrically consistent ways. Ye and Godzik have recently suggested that adding geometric flexibility may help better model protein structures in a variety of contexts. We introduce the program Matt (Multiple Alignment with Translations and Twists), an aligned fragment pair chaining algorithm that, in intermediate steps, allows local flexibility between fragments: small translations and rotations are temporarily allowed to bring sets of aligned fragments closer, even if they are physically impossible under rigid body transformations. After a dynamic programming assembly guided by these “bent” alignments, geometric consistency is restored in the final step before the alignment is output. Matt is tested against other recent multiple protein structure alignment programs on the popular Homstrad and SABmark benchmark datasets. Matt's global performance is competitive with the other programs on Homstrad, but outperforms the other programs on SABmark, a benchmark of multiple structure alignments of proteins with more distant homology. On both datasets, Matt demonstrates an ability to better align the ends of α-helices and β-strands, an important characteristic of any structure alignment program intended to help construct a structural template library for threading approaches to the inverse protein-folding problem. The related question of whether Matt alignments can be used to distinguish distantly homologous structure pairs from pairs of proteins that are not homologous is also considered. For this purpose, a p-value score based on the length of the common core and average root mean squared deviation (RMSD) of Matt alignments is shown to largely separate decoys from homologous protein structures in the SABmark benchmark dataset. We postulate that Matt's strong performance comes from its ability to model proteins in different conformational states and, perhaps even more important, its ability to model backbone distortions in more distantly related proteins.
Author Summary
Proteins fold into complicated highly asymmetrical 3-D shapes. When a protein is found to fold in a shape that is sufficiently similar to other proteins whose functional roles are known, this can significantly aid in predicting function in the new protein. In addition, the areas where structure is highly conserved in a set of such similar proteins may indicate functional or structural importance of the conserved region. Given a set of protein structures, the protein structural alignment problem is to determine the superimposition of the backbones of these protein structures that places as much of the structures as possible into close spatial alignment. We introduce an algorithm that allows local flexibility in the structures when it brings them into closer alignment. The algorithm performs as well as its competitors when the structures to be aligned are highly similar, and outperforms them by a larger and larger margin as similarity decreases. In addition, for the related classification problem that asks if the degree of structural similarity between two proteins implies if they likely evolved from a common ancestor, a scoring function assesses, based on the best alignment generated for each pair of protein structures, whether they should be declared sufficiently structurally similar or not. This score can be used to predict when two proteins have sufficiently similar shapes to likely share functional characteristics.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0040010
PMCID: PMC2186361  PMID: 18193941
8.  Optimal contact map alignment of protein–protein interfaces 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(20):2324-2328.
The long-standing problem of constructing protein structure alignments is of central importance in computational biology. The main goal is to provide an alignment of residue correspondences, in order to identify homologous residues across chains. A critical next step of this is the alignment of protein complexes and their interfaces. Here, we introduce the program CMAPi, a two-dimensional dynamic programming algorithm that, given a pair of protein complexes, optimally aligns the contact maps of their interfaces: it produces polynomial-time near-optimal alignments in the case of multiple complexes. We demonstrate the efficacy of our algorithm on complexes from PPI families listed in the SCOPPI database and from highly divergent cytokine families. In comparison to existing techniques, CMAPi generates more accurate alignments of interacting residues within families of interacting proteins, especially for sequences with low similarity. While previous methods that use an all-atom based representation of the interface have been successful, CMAPi's use of a contact map representation allows it to be more tolerant to conformational changes and thus to align more of the interaction surface. These improved interface alignments should enhance homology modeling and threading methods for predicting PPIs by providing a basis for generating template profiles for sequence–structure alignment.
Contact: bab@mit.edu; jbienkowska@gmail.com
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at http://theory.csail.mit.edu/cmapi
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btn432
PMCID: PMC2562013  PMID: 18710876
9.  Estimates of statistical significance for comparison of individual positions in multiple sequence alignments 
BMC Bioinformatics  2004;5:106.
Background
Profile-based analysis of multiple sequence alignments (MSA) allows for accurate comparison of protein families. Here, we address the problems of detecting statistically confident dissimilarities between (1) MSA position and a set of predicted residue frequencies, and (2) between two MSA positions. These problems are important for (i) evaluation and optimization of methods predicting residue occurrence at protein positions; (ii) detection of potentially misaligned regions in automatically produced alignments and their further refinement; and (iii) detection of sites that determine functional or structural specificity in two related families.
Results
For problems (1) and (2), we propose analytical estimates of P-value and apply them to the detection of significant positional dissimilarities in various experimental situations. (a) We compare structure-based predictions of residue propensities at a protein position to the actual residue frequencies in the MSA of homologs. (b) We evaluate our method by the ability to detect erroneous position matches produced by an automatic sequence aligner. (c) We compare MSA positions that correspond to residues aligned by automatic structure aligners. (d) We compare MSA positions that are aligned by high-quality manual superposition of structures. Detected dissimilarities reveal shortcomings of the automatic methods for residue frequency prediction and alignment construction. For the high-quality structural alignments, the dissimilarities suggest sites of potential functional or structural importance.
Conclusion
The proposed computational method is of significant potential value for the analysis of protein families.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-5-106
PMCID: PMC516024  PMID: 15296518
10.  Rapid detection, classification and accurate alignment of up to a million or more related protein sequences 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(15):1869-1875.
Motivation: The patterns of sequence similarity and divergence present within functionally diverse, evolutionarily related proteins contain implicit information about corresponding biochemical similarities and differences. A first step toward accessing such information is to statistically analyze these patterns, which, in turn, requires that one first identify and accurately align a very large set of protein sequences. Ideally, the set should include many distantly related, functionally divergent subgroups. Because it is extremely difficult, if not impossible for fully automated methods to align such sequences correctly, researchers often resort to manual curation based on detailed structural and biochemical information. However, multiply-aligning vast numbers of sequences in this way is clearly impractical.
Results: This problem is addressed using Multiply-Aligned Profiles for Global Alignment of Protein Sequences (MAPGAPS). The MAPGAPS program uses a set of multiply-aligned profiles both as a query to detect and classify related sequences and as a template to multiply-align the sequences. It relies on Karlin–Altschul statistics for sensitivity and on PSI-BLAST (and other) heuristics for speed. Using as input a carefully curated multiple-profile alignment for P-loop GTPases, MAPGAPS correctly aligned weakly conserved sequence motifs within 33 distantly related GTPases of known structure. By comparison, the sequence- and structurally based alignment methods hmmalign and PROMALS3D misaligned at least 11 and 23 of these regions, respectively. When applied to a dataset of 65 million protein sequences, MAPGAPS identified, classified and aligned (with comparable accuracy) nearly half a million putative P-loop GTPase sequences.
Availability: A C++ implementation of MAPGAPS is available at http://mapgaps.igs.umaryland.edu.
Contact: aneuwald@som.umaryland.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btp342
PMCID: PMC2732367  PMID: 19505947
11.  A conditional neural fields model for protein threading 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(12):i59-i66.
Motivation: Alignment errors are still the main bottleneck for current template-based protein modeling (TM) methods, including protein threading and homology modeling, especially when the sequence identity between two proteins under consideration is low (<30%).
Results: We present a novel protein threading method, CNFpred, which achieves much more accurate sequence–template alignment by employing a probabilistic graphical model called a Conditional Neural Field (CNF), which aligns one protein sequence to its remote template using a non-linear scoring function. This scoring function accounts for correlation among a variety of protein sequence and structure features, makes use of information in the neighborhood of two residues to be aligned, and is thus much more sensitive than the widely used linear or profile-based scoring function. To train this CNF threading model, we employ a novel quality-sensitive method, instead of the standard maximum-likelihood method, to maximize directly the expected quality of the training set. Experimental results show that CNFpred generates significantly better alignments than the best profile-based and threading methods on several public (but small) benchmarks as well as our own large dataset. CNFpred outperforms others regardless of the lengths or classes of proteins, and works particularly well for proteins with sparse sequence profiles due to the effective utilization of structure information. Our methodology can also be adapted to protein sequence alignment.
Contact: j3xu@ttic.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/bts213
PMCID: PMC3371845  PMID: 22689779
12.  Improving pairwise sequence alignment accuracy using near-optimal protein sequence alignments 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:146.
Background
While the pairwise alignments produced by sequence similarity searches are a powerful tool for identifying homologous proteins - proteins that share a common ancestor and a similar structure; pairwise sequence alignments often fail to represent accurately the structural alignments inferred from three-dimensional coordinates. Since sequence alignment algorithms produce optimal alignments, the best structural alignments must reflect suboptimal sequence alignment scores. Thus, we have examined a range of suboptimal sequence alignments and a range of scoring parameters to understand better which sequence alignments are likely to be more structurally accurate.
Results
We compared near-optimal protein sequence alignments produced by the Zuker algorithm and a set of probabilistic alignments produced by the probA program with structural alignments produced by four different structure alignment algorithms. There is significant overlap between the solution spaces of structural alignments and both the near-optimal sequence alignments produced by commonly used scoring parameters for sequences that share significant sequence similarity (E-values < 10-5) and the ensemble of probA alignments. We constructed a logistic regression model incorporating three input variables derived from sets of near-optimal alignments: robustness, edge frequency, and maximum bits-per-position. A ROC analysis shows that this model more accurately classifies amino acid pairs (edges in the alignment path graph) according to the likelihood of appearance in structural alignments than the robustness score alone. We investigated various trimming protocols for removing incorrect edges from the optimal sequence alignment; the most effective protocol is to remove matches from the semi-global optimal alignment that are outside the boundaries of the local alignment, although trimming according to the model-generated probabilities achieves a similar level of improvement. The model can also be used to generate novel alignments by using the probabilities in lieu of a scoring matrix. These alignments are typically better than the optimal sequence alignment, and include novel correct structural edges. We find that the probA alignments sample a larger variety of alignments than the Zuker set, which more frequently results in alignments that are closer to the structural alignments, but that using the probA alignments as input to the regression model does not increase performance.
Conclusions
The pool of suboptimal pairwise protein sequence alignments substantially overlaps structure-based alignments for pairs with statistically significant similarity, and a regression model based on information contained in this alignment pool improves the accuracy of pairwise alignments with respect to structure-based alignments.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-146
PMCID: PMC2850363  PMID: 20307279
13.  A hierarchical model for incomplete alignments in phylogenetic inference 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(5):592-598.
Motivation: Full-length DNA and protein sequences that span the entire length of a gene are ideally used for multiple sequence alignments (MSAs) and the subsequent inference of their relationships. Frequently, however, MSAs contain a substantial amount of missing data. For example, expressed sequence tags (ESTs), which are partial sequences of expressed genes, are the predominant source of sequence data for many organisms. The patterns of missing data typical for EST-derived alignments greatly compromise the accuracy of estimated phylogenies.
Results: We present a statistical method for inferring phylogenetic trees from EST-based incomplete MSA data. We propose a class of hierarchical models for modeling pairwise distances between the sequences, and develop a fully Bayesian approach for estimation of the model parameters. Once the distance matrix is estimated, the phylogenetic tree may be constructed by applying neighbor-joining (or any other algorithm of choice). We also show that maximizing the marginal likelihood from the Bayesian approach yields similar results to a profile likelihood estimation. The proposed methods are illustrated using simulated protein families, for which the true phylogeny is known, and one real protein family.
Availability: R code for fitting these models are available from: http://people.bu.edu/gupta/software.htm.
Contact: gupta@bu.edu
Supplementary information: Supplemantary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btp015
PMCID: PMC2647833  PMID: 19147663
14.  Improvement in accuracy of multiple sequence alignment using novel group-to-group sequence alignment algorithm with piecewise linear gap cost 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:524.
Background
Multiple sequence alignment (MSA) is a useful tool in bioinformatics. Although many MSA algorithms have been developed, there is still room for improvement in accuracy and speed. In the alignment of a family of protein sequences, global MSA algorithms perform better than local ones in many cases, while local ones perform better than global ones when some sequences have long insertions or deletions (indels) relative to others. Many recent leading MSA algorithms have incorporated pairwise alignment information obtained from a mixture of sources into their scoring system to improve accuracy of alignment containing long indels.
Results
We propose a novel group-to-group sequence alignment algorithm that uses a piecewise linear gap cost. We developed a program called PRIME, which employs our proposed algorithm to optimize the well-defined sum-of-pairs score. PRIME stands for Profile-based Randomized Iteration MEthod. We evaluated PRIME and some recent MSA programs using BAliBASE version 3.0 and PREFAB version 4.0 benchmarks. The results of benchmark tests showed that PRIME can construct accurate alignments comparable to the most accurate programs currently available, including L-INS-i of MAFFT, ProbCons, and T-Coffee.
Conclusion
PRIME enables users to construct accurate alignments without having to employ pairwise alignment information. PRIME is available at .
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-7-524
PMCID: PMC1769516  PMID: 17137519
15.  Defining and predicting structurally conserved regions in protein superfamilies 
Bioinformatics  2012;29(2):175-181.
Motivation: The structures of homologous proteins are generally better conserved than their sequences. This phenomenon is demonstrated by the prevalence of structurally conserved regions (SCRs) even in highly divergent protein families. Defining SCRs requires the comparison of two or more homologous structures and is affected by their availability and divergence, and our ability to deduce structurally equivalent positions among them. In the absence of multiple homologous structures, it is necessary to predict SCRs of a protein using information from only a set of homologous sequences and (if available) a single structure. Accurate SCR predictions can benefit homology modelling and sequence alignment.
Results: Using pairwise DaliLite alignments among a set of homologous structures, we devised a simple measure of structural conservation, termed structural conservation index (SCI). SCI was used to distinguish SCRs from non-SCRs. A database of SCRs was compiled from 386 SCOP superfamilies containing 6489 protein domains. Artificial neural networks were then trained to predict SCRs with various features deduced from a single structure and homologous sequences. Assessment of the predictions via a 5-fold cross-validation method revealed that predictions based on features derived from a single structure perform similarly to ones based on homologous sequences, while combining sequence and structural features was optimal in terms of accuracy (0.755) and Matthews correlation coefficient (0.476). These results suggest that even without information from multiple structures, it is still possible to effectively predict SCRs for a protein. Finally, inspection of the structures with the worst predictions pinpoints difficulties in SCR definitions.
Availability: The SCR database and the prediction server can be found at http://prodata.swmed.edu/SCR.
Contact: 91huangi@gmail.com or grishin@chop.swmed.edu
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics Online
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/bts682
PMCID: PMC3546793  PMID: 23193223
16.  MSACompro: protein multiple sequence alignment using predicted secondary structure, solvent accessibility, and residue-residue contacts 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:472.
Background
Multiple Sequence Alignment (MSA) is a basic tool for bioinformatics research and analysis. It has been used essentially in almost all bioinformatics tasks such as protein structure modeling, gene and protein function prediction, DNA motif recognition, and phylogenetic analysis. Therefore, improving the accuracy of multiple sequence alignment is important for advancing many bioinformatics fields.
Results
We designed and developed a new method, MSACompro, to synergistically incorporate predicted secondary structure, relative solvent accessibility, and residue-residue contact information into the currently most accurate posterior probability-based MSA methods to improve the accuracy of multiple sequence alignments. The method is different from the multiple sequence alignment methods (e.g. 3D-Coffee) that use the tertiary structure information of some sequences since the structural information of our method is fully predicted from sequences. To the best of our knowledge, applying predicted relative solvent accessibility and contact map to multiple sequence alignment is novel. The rigorous benchmarking of our method to the standard benchmarks (i.e. BAliBASE, SABmark and OXBENCH) clearly demonstrated that incorporating predicted protein structural information improves the multiple sequence alignment accuracy over the leading multiple protein sequence alignment tools without using this information, such as MSAProbs, ProbCons, Probalign, T-coffee, MAFFT and MUSCLE. And the performance of the method is comparable to the state-of-the-art method PROMALS of using structural features and additional homologous sequences by slightly lower scores.
Conclusion
MSACompro is an efficient and reliable multiple protein sequence alignment tool that can effectively incorporate predicted protein structural information into multiple sequence alignment. The software is available at http://sysbio.rnet.missouri.edu/multicom_toolbox/.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-472
PMCID: PMC3299741  PMID: 22168237
17.  MergeAlign: improving multiple sequence alignment performance by dynamic reconstruction of consensus multiple sequence alignments 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:117.
Background
The generation of multiple sequence alignments (MSAs) is a crucial step for many bioinformatic analyses. Thus improving MSA accuracy and identifying potential errors in MSAs is important for a wide range of post-genomic research. We present a novel method called MergeAlign which constructs consensus MSAs from multiple independent MSAs and assigns an alignment precision score to each column.
Results
Using conventional benchmark tests we demonstrate that on average MergeAlign MSAs are more accurate than MSAs generated using any single matrix of sequence substitution. We show that MergeAlign column scores are related to alignment precision and hence provide an ab initio method of estimating alignment precision in the absence of curated reference MSAs. Using two novel and independent alignment performance tests that utilise a large set of orthologous gene families we demonstrate that increasing MSA performance leads to an increase in the performance of downstream phylogenetic analyses.
Conclusion
Using multiple tests of alignment performance we demonstrate that this novel method has broad general application in biological research.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-117
PMCID: PMC3413523  PMID: 22646090
18.  AlignHUSH: Alignment of HMMs using structure and hydrophobicity information 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:275.
Background
Sensitive remote homology detection and accurate alignments especially in the midnight zone of sequence similarity are needed for better function annotation and structural modeling of proteins. An algorithm, AlignHUSH for HMM-HMM alignment has been developed which is capable of recognizing distantly related domain families The method uses structural information, in the form of predicted secondary structure probabilities, and hydrophobicity of amino acids to align HMMs of two sets of aligned sequences. The effect of using adjoining column(s) information has also been investigated and is found to increase the sensitivity of HMM-HMM alignments and remote homology detection.
Results
We have assessed the performance of AlignHUSH using known evolutionary relationships available in SCOP. AlignHUSH performs better than the best HMM-HMM alignment methods and is observed to be even more sensitive at higher error rates. Accuracy of the alignments obtained using AlignHUSH has been assessed using the structure-based alignments available in BaliBASE. The alignment length and the alignment quality are found to be appropriate for homology modeling and function annotation. The alignment accuracy is found to be comparable to existing methods for profile-profile alignments.
Conclusions
A new method to align HMMs has been developed and is shown to have better sensitivity at error rates of 10% and above when compared to other available programs. The proposed method could effectively aid obtaining clues to functions of proteins of yet unknown function.
A web-server incorporating the AlignHUSH method is available at http://crick.mbu.iisc.ernet.in/~alignhush/
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-275
PMCID: PMC3228556  PMID: 21729312
19.  A new protein linear motif benchmark for multiple sequence alignment software 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:213.
Background
Linear motifs (LMs) are abundant short regulatory sites used for modulating the functions of many eukaryotic proteins. They play important roles in post-translational modification, cell compartment targeting, docking sites for regulatory complex assembly and protein processing and cleavage. Methods for LM detection are now being developed that are strongly dependent on scores for motif conservation in homologous proteins. However, most LMs are found in natively disordered polypeptide segments that evolve rapidly, unhindered by structural constraints on the sequence. These regions of modular proteins are difficult to align using classical multiple sequence alignment programs that are specifically optimised to align the globular domains. As a consequence, poor motif alignment quality is hindering efforts to detect new LMs.
Results
We have developed a new benchmark, as part of the BAliBASE suite, designed to assess the ability of standard multiple alignment methods to detect and align LMs. The reference alignments are organised into different test sets representing real alignment problems and contain examples of experimentally verified functional motifs, extracted from the Eukaryotic Linear Motif (ELM) database. The benchmark has been used to evaluate and compare a number of multiple alignment programs. With distantly related proteins, the worst alignment program correctly aligns 48% of LMs compared to 73% for the best program. However, the performance of all the programs is adversely affected by the introduction of other sequences containing false positive motifs. The ranking of the alignment programs based on LM alignment quality is similar to that observed when considering full-length protein alignments, however little correlation was observed between LM and overall alignment quality for individual alignment test cases.
Conclusion
We have shown that none of the programs currently available is capable of reliably aligning LMs in distantly related sequences and we have highlighted a number of specific problems. The results of the tests suggest possible ways to improve program accuracy for difficult, divergent sequences.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-9-213
PMCID: PMC2374782  PMID: 18439277
20.  Low-homology protein threading 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(12):i294-i300.
Motivation: The challenge of template-based modeling lies in the recognition of correct templates and generation of accurate sequence-template alignments. Homologous information has proved to be very powerful in detecting remote homologs, as demonstrated by the state-of-the-art profile-based method HHpred. However, HHpred does not fare well when proteins under consideration are low-homology. A protein is low-homology if we cannot obtain sufficient amount of homologous information for it from existing protein sequence databases.
Results: We present a profile-entropy dependent scoring function for low-homology protein threading. This method will model correlation among various protein features and determine their relative importance according to the amount of homologous information available. When proteins under consideration are low-homology, our method will rely more on structure information; otherwise, homologous information. Experimental results indicate that our threading method greatly outperforms the best profile-based method HHpred and all the top CASP8 servers on low-homology proteins. Tested on the CASP8 hard targets, our threading method is also better than all the top CASP8 servers but slightly worse than Zhang-Server. This is significant considering that Zhang-Server and other top CASP8 servers use a combination of multiple structure-prediction techniques including consensus method, multiple-template modeling, template-free modeling and model refinement while our method is a classical single-template-based threading method without any post-threading refinement.
Contact: jinboxu@gmail.com
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btq192
PMCID: PMC2881377  PMID: 20529920
21.  An Alignment Confidence Score Capturing Robustness to Guide Tree Uncertainty 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2010;27(8):1759-1767.
Multiple sequence alignment (MSA) is the basis for a wide range of comparative sequence analyses from molecular phylogenetics to 3D structure prediction. Sophisticated algorithms have been developed for sequence alignment, but in practice, many errors can be expected and extensive portions of the MSA are unreliable. Hence, it is imperative to understand and characterize the various sources of errors in MSAs and to quantify site-specific alignment confidence. In this paper, we show that uncertainties in the guide tree used by progressive alignment methods are a major source of alignment uncertainty. We use this insight to develop a novel method for quantifying the robustness of each alignment column to guide tree uncertainty. We build on the widely used bootstrap method for perturbing the phylogenetic tree. Specifically, we generate a collection of trees and use each as a guide tree in the alignment algorithm, thus producing a set of MSAs. We next test the consistency of every column of the MSA obtained from the unperturbed guide tree with respect to the set of MSAs. We name this measure the “GUIDe tree based AligNment ConfidencE” (GUIDANCE) score. Using the Benchmark Alignment data BASE benchmark as well as simulation studies, we show that GUIDANCE scores accurately identify errors in MSAs. Additionally, we compare our results with the previously published Heads-or-Tails score and show that the GUIDANCE score is a better predictor of unreliably aligned regions.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msq066
PMCID: PMC2908709  PMID: 20207713
multiple sequence alignment; guide tree; phylogeny; bootstrap; alignment confidence
22.  Application of protein structure alignments to iterated hidden Markov model protocols for structure prediction 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:410.
Background
One of the most powerful methods for the prediction of protein structure from sequence information alone is the iterative construction of profile-type models. Because profiles are built from sequence alignments, the sequences included in the alignment and the method used to align them will be important to the sensitivity of the resulting profile. The inclusion of highly diverse sequences will presumably produce a more powerful profile, but distantly related sequences can be difficult to align accurately using only sequence information. Therefore, it would be expected that the use of protein structure alignments to improve the selection and alignment of diverse sequence homologs might yield improved profiles. However, the actual utility of such an approach has remained unclear.
Results
We explored several iterative protocols for the generation of profile hidden Markov models. These protocols were tailored to allow the inclusion of protein structure alignments in the process, and were used for large-scale creation and benchmarking of structure alignment-enhanced models. We found that models using structure alignments did not provide an overall improvement over sequence-only models for superfamily-level structure predictions. However, the results also revealed that the structure alignment-enhanced models were complimentary to the sequence-only models, particularly at the edge of the "twilight zone". When the two sets of models were combined, they provided improved results over sequence-only models alone. In addition, we found that the beneficial effects of the structure alignment-enhanced models could not be realized if the structure-based alignments were replaced with sequence-based alignments. Our experiments with different iterative protocols for sequence-only models also suggested that simple protocol modifications were unable to yield equivalent improvements to those provided by the structure alignment-enhanced models. Finally, we found that models using structure alignments provided fold-level structure assignments that were superior to those produced by sequence-only models.
Conclusion
When attempting to predict the structure of remote homologs, we advocate a combined approach in which both traditional models and models incorporating structure alignments are used.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-7-410
PMCID: PMC1622756  PMID: 16970830
23.  Alignment of Helical Membrane Protein Sequences Using AlignMe 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57731.
Few sequence alignment methods have been designed specifically for integral membrane proteins, even though these important proteins have distinct evolutionary and structural properties that might affect their alignments. Existing approaches typically consider membrane-related information either by using membrane-specific substitution matrices or by assigning distinct penalties for gap creation in transmembrane and non-transmembrane regions. Here, we ask whether favoring matching of predicted transmembrane segments within a standard dynamic programming algorithm can improve the accuracy of pairwise membrane protein sequence alignments. We tested various strategies using a specifically designed program called AlignMe. An updated set of homologous membrane protein structures, called HOMEP2, was used as a reference for optimizing the gap penalties. The best of the membrane-protein optimized approaches were then tested on an independent reference set of membrane protein sequence alignments from the BAliBASE collection. When secondary structure (S) matching was combined with evolutionary information (using a position-specific substitution matrix (P)), in an approach we called AlignMePS, the resultant pairwise alignments were typically among the most accurate over a broad range of sequence similarities when compared to available methods. Matching transmembrane predictions (T), in addition to evolutionary information, and secondary-structure predictions, in an approach called AlignMePST, generally reduces the accuracy of the alignments of closely-related proteins in the BAliBASE set relative to AlignMePS, but may be useful in cases of extremely distantly related proteins for which sequence information is less informative. The open source AlignMe code is available at https://sourceforge.net/projects/alignme/, and at http://www.forrestlab.org, along with an online server and the HOMEP2 data set.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057731
PMCID: PMC3587630  PMID: 23469223
24.  Gapped alignment of protein sequence motifs through Monte Carlo optimization of a hidden Markov model 
BMC Bioinformatics  2004;5:157.
Background
Certain protein families are highly conserved across distantly related organisms and belong to large and functionally diverse superfamilies. The patterns of conservation present in these protein sequences presumably are due to selective constraints maintaining important but unknown structural mechanisms with some constraints specific to each family and others shared by a larger subset or by the entire superfamily. To exploit these patterns as a source of functional information, we recently devised a statistically based approach called contrast hierarchical alignment and interaction network (CHAIN) analysis, which infers the strengths of various categories of selective constraints from co-conserved patterns in a multiple alignment. The power of this approach strongly depends on the quality of the multiple alignments, which thus motivated development of theoretical concepts and strategies to improve alignment of conserved motifs within large sets of distantly related sequences.
Results
Here we describe a hidden Markov model (HMM), an algebraic system, and Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling strategies for alignment of multiple sequence motifs. The MCMC sampling strategies are useful both for alignment optimization and for adjusting position specific background amino acid frequencies for alignment uncertainties. Associated statistical formulations provide an objective measure of alignment quality as well as automatic gap penalty optimization. Improved alignments obtained in this way are compared with PSI-BLAST based alignments within the context of CHAIN analysis of three protein families: Giα subunits, prolyl oligopeptidases, and transitional endoplasmic reticulum (p97) AAA+ ATPases.
Conclusion
While not entirely replacing PSI-BLAST based alignments, which likewise may be optimized for CHAIN analysis using this approach, these motif-based methods often more accurately align very distantly related sequences and thus can provide a better measure of selective constraints. In some instances, these new approaches also provide a better understanding of family-specific constraints, as we illustrate for p97 ATPases. Programs implementing these procedures and supplementary information are available from the authors.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-5-157
PMCID: PMC538276  PMID: 15504234
25.  Predicting protein contact map using evolutionary and physical constraints by integer programming 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(13):i266-i273.
Motivation: Protein contact map describes the pairwise spatial and functional relationship of residues in a protein and contains key information for protein 3D structure prediction. Although studied extensively, it remains challenging to predict contact map using only sequence information. Most existing methods predict the contact map matrix element-by-element, ignoring correlation among contacts and physical feasibility of the whole-contact map. A couple of recent methods predict contact map by using mutual information, taking into consideration contact correlation and enforcing a sparsity restraint, but these methods demand for a very large number of sequence homologs for the protein under consideration and the resultant contact map may be still physically infeasible.
Results: This article presents a novel method PhyCMAP for contact map prediction, integrating both evolutionary and physical restraints by machine learning and integer linear programming. The evolutionary restraints are much more informative than mutual information, and the physical restraints specify more concrete relationship among contacts than the sparsity restraint. As such, our method greatly reduces the solution space of the contact map matrix and, thus, significantly improves prediction accuracy. Experimental results confirm that PhyCMAP outperforms currently popular methods no matter how many sequence homologs are available for the protein under consideration.
Availability: http://raptorx.uchicago.edu.
Contact: jinboxu@gmail.com
doi:10.1093/bioinformatics/btt211
PMCID: PMC3694661  PMID: 23812992

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