Rapid search for tertiary fragments reveals protein sequence–structure relationships

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Abstract

Finding backbone substructures from the Protein Data Bank that match an arbitrary query structural motif, composed of multiple disjoint segments, is a problem of growing relevance in structure prediction and protein design. Although numerous protein structure search approaches have been proposed, methods that address this specific task without additional restrictions and on practical time scales are generally lacking. Here, we propose a solution, dubbed MASTER, that is both rapid, enabling searches over the Protein Data Bank in a matter of seconds, and provably correct, finding all matches below a user-specified root-mean-square deviation cutoff. We show that despite the potentially exponential time complexity of the problem, running times in practice are modest even for queries with many segments. The ability to explore naturally plausible structural and sequence variations around a given motif has the potential to synthesize its design principles in an automated manner; so we go on to illustrate the utility of MASTER to protein structural biology. We demonstrate its capacity to rapidly establish structure–sequence relationships, uncover the native designability landscapes of tertiary structural motifs, identify structural signatures of binding, and automatically rewire protein topologies. Given the broad utility of protein tertiary fragment searches, we hope that providing MASTER in an open-source format will enable novel advances in understanding, predicting, and designing protein structure.

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