Biochemistry, Department of


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Published in PLoS Computational Biology 3:1 (January 2007), e10. doi:10.1371/ journal.pcbi.0030010 Copyright (c) 2007 Wei et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Genomics has posed the challenge of determination of protein function from sequence and/or 3-D structure. Functional assignment from sequence relationships can be misleading, and structural similarity does not necessarily imply functional similarity. Proteins in the DJ-1 family, many of which are of unknown function, are examples of proteins with both sequence and fold similarity that span multiple functional classes. THEMATICS (theoretical microscopic titration curves), an electrostatics-based computational approach to functional site prediction, is used to sort proteins in the DJ-1 family into different functional classes. Active site residues are predicted for the eight distinct DJ-1 proteins with available 3-D structures. Placement of the predicted residues onto a structural alignment for six of these proteins reveals three distinct types of active sites. Each type overlaps only partially with the others, with only one residue in common across all six sets of predicted residues. Human DJ-1 and YajL from Escherichia coli have very similar predicted active sites and belong to the same probable functional group. Protease I, a known cysteine protease from Pyrococcus horikoshii, and PfpI/YhbO from E. coli, a hypothetical protein of unknown function, belong to a separate class. THEMATICS predicts a set of residues that is typical of a cysteine protease for Protease I; the prediction for PfpI/YhbO bears some similarity. YDR533Cp from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, of unknown function, and the known chaperone Hsp31 from E. coli constitute a third group with nearly identical predicted active sites. While the first four proteins have predicted active sites at dimer interfaces, YDR533Cp and Hsp31 both have predicted sites contained within each subunit. Although YDR533Cp and Hsp31 form different dimers with different orientations between the subunits, the predicted active sites are superimposable within the monomer structures. Thus, the three predicted functional classes form four different types of quaternary structures. The computational prediction of the functional sites for protein structures of unknown function provides valuable clues for functional classification.