Automated multiple structure alignment and detection of a common substructural motif

Nathaniel Leibowitz, Zipora Y. Fligelman, Ruth Nussinov*, Haim J. Wolfson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While a number of approaches have been geared toward multiple sequence alignments, to date there have been very few approaches to multiple structure alignment and detection of a recurring substructural motif. Among these, none performs both multiple structure comparison and motif detection simultaneously. Further, none considers all structures at the same time, rather than initiating from pairwise molecular comparisons. We present such a multiple structural alignment algorithm. Given an ensemble of protein structures, the algorithm automatically finds the largest common substructure (core) of Cα atoms that appears in all the molecules in the ensemble. The detection of the core and the structural alignment are done simultaneously. Additional structural alignments also are obtained and are ranked by the sizes of the substructural motifs, which are present in the entire ensemble. The method is based on the geometric hashing paradigm. As in our previous structural comparison algorithms, it compares the structures in an amino acid sequence order-independent way, and hence the resulting alignment is unaffected by insertions, deletions and protein chain directionality. As such, it can be applied to protein surfaces, protein-protein interfaces and protein cores to find the optimally, and suboptimally spatially recurring substructural motifs. There is no predefinition of the motif. We describe the algorithm, demonstrating its efficiency. In particular, we present a range of results for several protein ensembles, with different folds and belonging to the same, or to different, families. Since the algorithm treats molecules as collections of points in three-dimensional space, it can also be applied to other molecules, such as RNA, or drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-245
Number of pages11
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 15 May 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Geometric hashing
  • Invariants
  • Multiple structural alignment
  • Multiple structural comparison
  • Structural core


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