Global view of the protein universe

Sergey Nepomnyachiy, Nir Ben-Tal, Rachel Kolodny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To explore protein space from a global perspective, we consider 9,710 SCOP (Structural Classification of Proteins) domains with up to 70% sequence identity and present all similarities among them as networks: In the "domain network," nodes represent domains, and edges connect domains that share "motifs," i.e., significantly sized segments of similar sequence and structure. We explore the dependence of the network on the thresholds that define the evolutionary relatedness of the domains. At excessively strict thresholds the network falls apart completely; for very lax thresholds, there are network paths between virtually all domains. Interestingly, at intermediate thresholds the network constitutes two regions that can be described as "continuous" versus "discrete." The continuous region comprises a large connected component, dominated by domains with alternating alpha and beta elements, and the discrete region includes the rest of the domains in isolated islands, each generally corresponding to a fold. We also construct the "motif network," in which nodes represent recurring motifs, and edges connect motifs that appear in the same domain. This network also features a large and highly connected component of motifs that originate from domains with alternating alpha/ beta elements (and some all-alpha domains), and smaller isolated islands. Indeed, the motif network suggests that nature reuses such motifs extensively. The networks suggest evolutionary paths between domains and give hints about protein evolution and the underlying biophysics. They provide natural means of organizing protein space, and could be useful for the development of strategies for protein search and design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11691-11696
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - 12 Aug 2014


  • Protein cooccurrence networks
  • Protein similarity networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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