Scale-free behaviour of amino acid pair interactions in folded proteins

Steffen B. Petersen, Maria Teresa Neves-Petersen, Rasmus J. Mortensen, Svend B. Henriksen, Henrik Marcus Geertz-Hansen

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The protein structure is a cumulative result of interactions between amino acid residues interacting with each other through space and/or chemical bonds. Despite the large number of high resolution protein structures, the ‘‘protein structure code’’ has not been fully identified. Our manuscript presents a novel approach to protein structure analysis in order to identify rules for spatial packing of amino acid pairs in proteins. We have investigated 8706 high resolution non-redundant protein chains and quantified amino acid pair interactions in terms of solvent accessibility, spatial and sequence distance, secondary
structure, and sequence length. The number of pairs found in a particular environment is stored in a cell in an 8 dimensional data tensor. When plotting the cell population against the number of cells that have the same population size, a scale free organization is found. When analyzing which amino acid paired residues contributed to the cells with a population above 50, pairs of Ala, Ile, Leu and Val dominate the results. This result is statistically highly significant. We postulate that such pairs form ‘‘structural stability points’’ in the protein structure. Our data shows that they are in buried a-helices or b-strands, in a
spatial distance of 3.8–4.3A° and in a sequence distance .4 residues. We speculate that the scale free organization of the amino acid pair interactions in the 8D protein structure combined with the clear dominance of pairs of Ala, Ile, Leu and Val is important for understanding the very nature of the protein structure formation. Our observations suggest that protein structures should be considered as having a higher dimensional organization.
Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S One
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)e41322-e41322
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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