Protein-protein interfaces: Architectures and interactions in protein- protein interfaces and in protein cores. Their similarities and differences

C. J. Tsai, Liang Lin Shuo Liang Lin, H. J. Wolfson, R. Nussinov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Protein structures generally consist of favorable folding motifs formed by specific arrangements of secondary structure elements. Similar architectures can be adopted by different amino acids sequences, although the details of the structures vary. It has long been known that despite the sequence variability, there is a striking preferential conservation of the hydrophobic character of the amino acids at the buried positions of these folding motifs. Differences in the sizes of the side-chains are accommodated by movements of the secondary structure elements with respect to each other, leading to compact packing. Scanning protein-protein interfaces reveals that similar architectures are also observed at and around their interacting surfaces, with preservation of the hydrophobic character, although not to the same extent. The general forces that determine the origin of the native structures of proteins have been investigated intensively. The major non-bonded forces operating on a protein chain as it folds into a three-dimensional structure are likely to be packing, the hydrophobic effect, and electrostatic interactions. While the substantial hydrophobic forces lead to a compact conformation, they are also nonspecific and cannot serve as a guide to a conformationally unique structure. For the general folding problem, it thus appears that packing is a prime candidate for determining a particular fold. Specific hydrogen-bonding patterns and salt-bridges have also been proposed to play a role. Inspection of protein-protein interfaces reveals that the hallmarks governing single chain protein structures also determine their interactions, suggesting that similar principles underlie protein folding and protein-protein associations. This review focuses on sortie aspects of protein-protein interfaces, particularly on the architectures and their interactions. These are compared with those present in protein monomers. This task is facilitated by the recently compiled, non-redundant structural dataset of protein-protein interfaces derived from the crystallographic database. In particular, although current view holds that protein-protein interfaces and interactions are similar to those found in the conformations of single-chain proteins, this review brings forth the differences as well. Not only is it logical that such differences would exist, it is these differences that further illuminate protein folding on the one hand and protein-protein recognition on the other. These are also particularly important in considering inhibitor (ligand) design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-152
Number of pages26
JournalCritical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Israel Academy of Sci- ences91-002 19
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services1-CO-74102
National Cancer Institute
Bloom's Syndrome Foundation
Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Israel Science Foundation


    • interface-dataset
    • protein architectures
    • protein-protein interactions
    • protein-protein interfaces
    • structural motifs


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