Triathlon for energy functions: Who is the winner for design of protein-protein interactions?

Oz Sharabi, Ayelet Dekel, Julia M. Shifman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Computational prediction of stabilizing mutations into monomeric proteins has become an almost ordinary task. Yet, computational stabilization of protein-protein complexes remains a challenge. Design of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) is impeded by the absence of an energy function that could reliably reproduce all favorable interactions between the binding partners. In this work, we present three energy functions: one function that was trained on monomeric proteins, while the other two were optimized by different techniques to predict side-chain conformations in a dataset of PPIs. The performances of these energy functions are evaluated in three different tasks related to design of PPIs: predicting side-chain conformations in PPIs, recovering native binding-interface sequences, and predicting changes in free energy of binding due to mutations. Our findings show that both functions optimized on side-chain repacking in PPIs are more suitable for PPI design compared to the function trained on monomeric proteins. Yet, no function performs best at all three tasks. Comparison of the three energy functions and their performances revealed that (1) burial of polar atoms should not be penalized significantly in PPI design as in single-protein design and (2) contribution of electrostatic interactions should be increased several-fold when switching from single-protein to PPI design. In addition, the use of a softer van der Waals potential is beneficial in cases when backbone flexibility is important. All things considered, we define an energy function that captures most of the nuances of the binding energetics and hence, should be used in future for design of PPIs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1487-1498
Number of pages12
JournalProteins: Structure, Function and Bioinformatics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Computational protein design
  • Energy functions
  • Optimization
  • Protein-protein interactions


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