Twilight zone of protein sequence alignments

TitleTwilight zone of protein sequence alignments
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsRost, B
JournalProtein Eng
KeywordsAmino Acid, Computer Simulation Databases, Factual False Positive Reactions Models, Statistical Sequence Alignment/*methods *Sequence Homology

Sequence alignments unambiguously distinguish between protein pairs of similar and non-similar structure when the pairwise sequence identity is high (>40% for long alignments). The signal gets blurred in the twilight zone of 20-35% sequence identity. Here, more than a million sequence alignments were analysed between protein pairs of known structures to re-define a line distinguishing between true and false positives for low levels of similarity. Four results stood out. (i) The transition from the safe zone of sequence alignment into the twilight zone is described by an explosion of false negatives. More than 95% of all pairs detected in the twilight zone had different structures. More precisely, above a cut-off roughly corresponding to 30% sequence identity, 90% of the pairs were homologous; below 25% less than 10% were. (ii) Whether or not sequence homology implied structural identity depended crucially on the alignment length. For example, if 10 residues were similar in an alignment of length 16 (>60%), structural similarity could not be inferred. (iii) The 'more similar than identical' rule (discarding all pairs for which percentage similarity was lower than percentage identity) reduced false positives significantly. (iv) Using intermediate sequences for finding links between more distant families was almost as successful: pairs were predicted to be homologous when the respective sequence families had proteins in common. All findings are applicable to automatic database searches.