Computational Identification of Functional Centers in Complex Proteins: A Step-by-Step Guide With Examples

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In proteins, functional centers consist of the key amino acids required to perform molecular functions such as catalysis, ligand-binding, hormone- and gas-sensing. These centers are often embedded within complex multi-domain proteins and can perform important cellular signaling functions that enable fine-tuning of temporal and spatial regulation of signaling molecules and networks. To discover hidden functional centers, we have developed a protocol that consists of the following sequential steps. The first is the assembly of a search motif based on the key amino acids in the functional center followed by querying proteomes of interest with the assembled motif. The second consists of a structural assessment of proteins that harbor the motif. This approach, that relies on the application of computational tools for the analysis of data in public repositories and the biological interpretation of the search results, has to-date uncovered several novel functional centers in complex proteins. Here, we use recent examples to describe a step-by-step guide that details the workflow of this approach and supplement with notes, recommendations and cautions to make this protocol robust and widely applicable for the discovery of hidden functional centers.

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Frontiers in Bioinformatics



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