The simplest approximation of interaction potential between amino acid residues in proteins is the contact potential, which defines the effective free energy of a protein conformation by a set of amino acid contacts formed in this conformation. Finding a contact potential capable of predicting free energies of protein states across a variety of protein families will aid protein folding and engineering in silico on a computationally tractable time-scale. We test the ability of contact potentials to accurately and transferably (across various protein families) predict stability changes of proteins upon mutations. We develop a new methodology to determine the contact potentials in proteins from experimental measurements of changes in protein's thermodynamic stabilities (ΔΔG) upon mutations. We apply our methodology to derive sets of contact interaction parameters for a hierarchy of interaction models including solvation and multi-body contact parameters. We test how well our models reproduce experimental measurements by statistical tests. We evaluate the maximum accuracy of predictions obtained by using contact potentials and the correlation between parameters derived from different data-sets of experimental (ΔΔG) values. We argue that it is impossible to reach experimental accuracy and derive fully transferable contact parameters using the contact models of potentials. However, contact parameters may yield reliable predictions of ΔΔG for datasets of mutations confined to the same amino acid positions in the sequence of a single protein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1223-1238
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology


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