Assessing methods for identifying pair-wise atomic contacts across binding interfaces | Academic Article individual record

An essential step in understanding the molecular basis of protein-protein interactions is the accurate identification of inter-protein contacts. We evaluate a number of common methods used in analyzing protein-protein interfaces: a Voronoi polyhedra-based approach, changes in solvent accessible surface area (DeltaSASA) and various radial cutoffs (closest atom, Cbeta, and centroid). First, we compared the Voronoi polyhedra-based analysis to the DeltaSASA and show that using Voronoi polyhedra finds knob-in-hole contacts. To assess the accuracy between the Voronoi polyhedra-based approach and the various radial cutoff methods, two sets of data were used: a small set of 75 experimental mutants and a larger one of 592 structures of protein-protein interfaces. In an assessment using the small set, the Voronoi polyhedra-based methods, a solvent accessible surface area method, and the closest atom radial method identified 100% of the direct contacts defined by mutagenesis data, but only the Voronoi polyhedra-based method found no false positives. The other radial methods were not able to find all of the direct contacts even using a cutoff of 9A. With the larger set of structures, we compared the overall number contacts using the Voronoi polyhedra-based method as a standard. All the radial methods using a 6-A cutoff identified more interactions, but these putative contacts included many false positives as well as missed many false negatives. While radial cutoffs are quicker to calculate as well as to implement, this result highlights why radial cutoff methods do not have the proper resolution to detail the non-homogeneous packing within protein interfaces, and suggests an inappropriate bias in pair-wise contact potentials. Of the radial cutoff methods, using the closest atom approach exhibits the best approximation to the more intensive Voronoi calculation. Our version of the Voronoi polyhedra-based method QContacts is available at .

author list (cited authors)
Fischer, T. B., Holmes, J. B., Miller, I. R., Parsons, J. R., Tung, L., Hu, J. C., & Tsai, J.
publication date
Elsevier BV Publisher
published in
  • Voronoi Polyhedra
  • Protein Packing
  • Radial Cutoff
  • Solvent Accessible Surface Area
  • Binding Interface
  • Protein-protein Interactions
citation count