Weizmann Institute Scientists Successful in Global Experiment for the Prediction of Protein-Protein Interactions


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A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science submitted three acceptable results for the three targets thus far presented by the CAPRI (Critical Assessment of PRediction of Interactions) Challenge, an international experiment in which participants submit predictions of structures of protein-protein complexes prior to experimental determination. The participants were given three prediction targets in the first stage of the challenge, and sixteen teams from around the world submitted possible solutions.
The Weizmann team, consisting of Dr. Miri Eisenstein of the Chemical Services Unit and Efrat Ben-Zeev, Alex Berchanski, Alex Heifetz and Boaz Shapira (students of Prof. Ephraim Katzir and Dr. Eisenstein in the Department of Biological Chemistry), was the only group to submit an acceptable prediction for each of the three targets. Dr. Eisenstein succeeded in a similar experiment as part of a Weizmann Institute team six years ago.

Prediction of the structure of protein-protein complexes is an increasingly prominent field of endeavor in the current post-genome era, since new sequences and links between proteins are now regularly being discovered. Docking is a predictive method that uses computer algorithms to create three-dimensional models of the interactions formed between two protein molecules when they make contact, or 'dock,' with one another. The CAPRI Challenge, which requires that all participants predict interactions for the same pairs of molecules, provides a useful basis of comparison of different docking algorithms. The participants are given the structures of individual molecules and are requested to submit their predictions for the resulting complexes by a certain date, after which the experimental structures are made public. An independent group of assessors tests and compares all the predictions.


Predicting the ultimate complex structure of two unbound protein molecules is an exceptionally difficult task, since the proteins change their shapes in response to one another's presence. To tackle the problem, the Weizmann team took rigid, three-dimensional computer models of the unbound molecules and then placed them in different orientations to one another. For each orientation, the molecules were shifted with respect to one another.


The team evaluated each contact between the molecules and gave the contacts a score, based on how well they fit together. Each contact was judged on the basis of geometric fit and, to a lesser degree, electrostatic fit. The team modified their program to allow for small changes that occur when the proteins approach one another -- a delicate task, since excessive modification can destroy the unique surface features of the original molecules.


The CAPRI Challenge provides a service to the scientific community by establishing identical criteria for the comparison of different docking approaches. Independent groups can focus on certain interactions (e.g., geometric or electrostatic) to the exclusion of others and usually represent even those interactions in an approximate form. Also, different groups use different molecular complexes for the development and testing of their prediction methods, and some structures are easier to predict than others. The CAPRI Challenge is a blind test in which the molecules and conditions are equivalent for all participants.


It is a continuous challenge that allows the groups to learn and improve their docking algorithms. Such experiments help the scientific community not only understand the processes by which proteins bind to one another, but also to predict the effects of intervention -- such as drug administration -- on such processes.

The three predictions of protein-protein complex structures.

 Prof. Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir's research is supported by  Mrs. Manja Leigh, UK, Sacta-Raschi Foundation and Mr. Avraham Goldwasser, Israel.   

Prof. Katchalski-Katzir is the incumbent of the Theodore R. Racoosin Chair of Biophysics.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is a major center of scientific research Israel. Its 2,500 scientists, students and
support staff are engaged in more than 1,000 research projects across the spectrum of contemporary science.