Reducing the dimensionality of the protein-folding search problem

George D. Chellapa, George D. Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


How does a folding protein negotiate a vast, featureless conformational landscape and adopt its native structure in biological real time? Motivated by this search problem, we developed a novel algorithm to compare protein structures. Procedures to identify structural analogs are typically conducted in three-dimensional space: the tertiary structure of a target protein is matched against each candidate in a database of structures, and goodness of fit is evaluated by a distance-based measure, such as the root-mean-square distance between target and candidate. This is an expensive approach because three-dimensional space is complex. Here, we transform the problem into a simpler one-dimensional procedure. Specifically, we identify and label the 11 most populated residue basins in a database of high-resolution protein structures. Using this 11-letter alphabet, any protein's three-dimensional structure can be transformed into a one-dimensional string by mapping each residue onto its corresponding basin. Similarity between the resultant basin strings can then be evaluated by conventional sequence-based comparison. The disorder → order folding transition is abridged on both sides. At the onset, folding conditions necessitate formation of hydrogen-bonded scaffold elements on which proteins are assembled, severely restricting the magnitude of accessible conformational space. Near the end, chain topology is established prior to emergence of the close-packed native state. At this latter stage of folding, the chain remains molten, and residues populate natural basins that are approximated by the 11 basins derived here. In essence, our algorithm reduces the protein-folding search problem to mapping the amino acid sequence onto a restricted basin string.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1231-1240
Number of pages10
JournalProtein Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Conformational
  • Conformational searching
  • Protein folding
  • Search algorithm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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