Using Structure to Explore the Sequence Alignment Space of Remote Homologs

Protein structure modeling by homology requires an accurate sequence alignment between the query protein and its structural template. However, sequence alignment methods based on dynamic programming (DP) are typically unable to generate accurate alignments for remote sequence homologs, thus limiting the applicability of modeling methods. A central problem is that the alignment that is “optimal” in terms of the DP score does not necessarily correspond to the alignment that produces the most accurate structural model. That is, the correct alignment based on structural superposition will generally have a lower score than the optimal alignment obtained from sequence. Variations of the DP algorithm have been developed that generate alternative alignments that are “suboptimal” in terms of the DP score, but these still encounter difficulties in detecting the correct structural alignment. We present here a new alternative sequence alignment method that relies heavily on the structure of the template. By initially aligning the query sequence to individual fragments in secondary structure elements and combining high-scoring fragments that pass basic tests for “modelability”, we can generate accurate alignments within a small ensemble. Our results suggest that the set of sequences that can currently be modeled by homology can be greatly extended.

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CC BY 4.0