Flexible structural comparison allowing hinge-bending, swiveling motions

George Verbitsky, Ruth Nussinov*, Haim Wolfson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present an efficient method for flexible comparison of protein structures, allowing swiveling motions. In all currently available methodologies developed and applied to the comparisons of protein structures, the molecules are considered to be rigid objects. The method described here extends and generalizes current approaches to searches for structural similarity between molecules by viewing proteins as objects consisting of rigid parts connected by rotary joints. During the matching, the rigid subparts are allowed to be rotated with respect to each other around swiveling points in one of the molecules. This technique straightforwardly detects structural motifs having hinge(s) between their domains. Whereas other existing methods detect hinge-bent motifs by initially finding the matching rigid parts and subsequently merging these together, our method automatically detects recurring substructures, allowing full 3 dimensional rotations about their swiveling points. Yet the method is extremely fast, avoiding the time-consuming full conformational space search. Comparison of two protein structures, without a predefinition of the motif, takes only seconds to one minute on a workstation per hinge. Hence, the molecule can be scanned for many potential hinge sites, allowing practically all C(α) atoms to be tried as swiveling points. This algorithm provides a highly efficient, fully automated tool. Its complexity is only O(n2), where n is the number of C(α) atoms in the compared molecules. As in our previous methodologies, the matching is independent of the order of the amino acids in the polypeptide chain. Here we illustrate the performance of this highly powerful tool on a large number of proteins exhibiting hinge-bending domain movements. Despite the motions, known hinge-bent domains/motifs which have been assembled and classified, are correctly identified. Additional matches are detected as well. This approach has been motivated by a technique for model based recognition of articulated objects originating in computer vision and robotics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-254
Number of pages23
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 1999


  • Computer vision
  • Detection of conformational changes
  • Domain motions
  • Flexible protein structure comparison
  • Hinge-bending motions


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