Public Release: 

Weizmann Institute scientists win global competition in predicting protein-protein interactions

Knowledge may contribute to better understanding of drug actions

American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science

Rehovot, Israel - June 24, 2002-- A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science achieved the best result in the CAPRI (Critical Assessment of Prediction of Interactions) Challenge, an international competition in which participants submit predictions of structures of protein-protein complexes prior to experimental determination. The competitors were given three prediction targets, and sixteen teams from around the world submitted possible solutions. The Weizmann team, consisting of Dr. Miri Eisenstein of the Chemical Services Unit and her students Efrat Ben-Zeev, Alex Berchanski, Alex Heifetz and Boaz Shapira (also students of Prof. Ephraim Katzir in the Department of Biological Chemistry), was the only group to submit an acceptable prediction for each of the three targets. Dr. Eisenstein won a similar competition 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 competitors predict interactions for the same unbound 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 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. The improvement of docking algorithms fostered by such competitions helps 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.

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The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel is one of the world's foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. Its 2,500 scientists, students, technicians and engineers pursue basic research in the quest for knowledge and to enhance the quality of human life. New ways of fighting disease and hunger, protecting the environment, and harnessing alternative sources of energy are high priorities at Weizmann.

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