Evolutionary pressure on residue interactions, intramolecular or intermolecular, that are important for protein structure or function can lead to covariance between the two positions. Recent methodological advances allow much more accurate contact predictions to be derived from this evolutionary covariance signal. The practical application of contact predictions has largely been confined to structural bioinformatics, yet, as this work seeks to demonstrate, the data can be of enormous value to the structural biologist working in X-ray crystallo graphy, cryo-EM or NMR. Integrative structural bioinformatics packages such as Rosetta can already exploit contact predictions in a variety of ways. The contribution of contact predictions begins at construct design, where structural domains may need to be expressed separately and contact predictions can help to predict domain limits. Structure solution by molecular replacement (MR) benefits from contact predictions in diverse ways: in difficult cases, more accurate search models can be constructed using ab initio modelling when predictions are available, while intermolecular contact predictions can allow the construction of larger, oligomeric search models. Furthermore, MR using supersecondary motifs or large-scale screens against the PDB can exploit information, such as the parallel or antiparallel nature of any β-strand pairing in the target, that can be inferred from contact predictions. Contact information will be particularly valuable in the determination of lower resolution structures by helping to assign sequence register. In large complexes, contact information may allow the identity of a protein responsible for a certain region of density to be determined and then assist in the orientation of an available model within that density. In NMR, predicted contacts can provide long-range information to extend the upper size limit of the technique in a manner analogous but complementary to experimental methods. Finally, predicted contacts can distinguish between biologically relevant interfaces and mere lattice contacts in a final crystal structure, and have potential in the identification of functionally important regions and in foreseeing the consequences of mutations.
Simkovic, F., Ovchinnikov, S., Baker, D., & Rigden, D. J. (2017, May 1). Applications of contact predictions to structural biology. IUCrJ. International Union of Crystallography. https://doi.org/10.1107/S2052252517005115