The identification and annotation of protein domains provides a critical step in the accurate determination of molecular function. Both computational and experimental methods of protein structure determination may be deterred by large multi-domain proteins or flexible linker regions. Knowledge of domains and their boundaries may reduce the experimental cost of protein structure determination by allowing researchers to work on a set of smaller and possibly more successful alternatives. Current domain prediction methods often rely on sequence similarity to conserved domains and as such are poorly suited to detect domain structure in poorly conserved or orphan proteins. We present here a simple computational method to identify protein domain linkers and their boundaries from sequence information alone. Our domain predictor, Armadillo (http://armadillo.blueprint.org), uses any amino acid index to convert a protein sequence to a smoothed numeric profile from which domains and domain boundaries may be predicted. We derived an amino acid index called the domain linker propensity index (DLI) from the amino acid composition of domain linkers using a non-redundant structure dataset. The index indicates that Pro and Gly show a propensity for linker residues while small hydrophobic residues do not. Armadillo predicts domain linker boundaries from Z-score distributions and obtains 35% sensitivity with DLI in a two-domain, single-linker dataset (within ±20 residues from linker). The combination of DLI and an entropy-based amino acid index increases the overall Armadillo sensitivity to 56% for two domain proteins. Moreover, Armadillo achieves 37% sensitivity for multi-domain proteins, surpassing most other prediction methods. Armadillo provides a simple, but effective method by which prediction of domain boundaries can be obtained with reasonable sensitivity. Armadillo should prove to be a valuable tool for rapidly delineating protein domains in poorly conserved proteins or those with no sequence neighbors. As a first-line predictor, domain meta-predictors could yield improved results with Armadillo predictions.
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