Computational identification of residues that modulate voltage sensitivity of voltage-gated potassium channels

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  • Background: Studies of the structure-function relationship in proteins for which no 3D structure is available are often based on inspection of multiple sequence alignments. Many functionally important residues of proteins can be identified because they are conserved during evolution. However, residues that vary can also be critically important if their variation is responsible for diversity of protein function and improved phenotypes. If too few sequences are studied, the support for hypotheses on the role of a given residue will be weak, but analysis of large multiple alignments is too complex for simple inspection. When a large body of sequence and functional data are available for a protein family, mature data mining tools, such as machine learning, can be applied to extract information more easily, sensitively and reliably. We have undertaken such an analysis of voltage-gated potassium channels, a transmembrane protein family whose members play indispensable roles in electrically excitable cells. Results: We applied different learning algorithms, combined in various implementations, to obtain a model that predicts the half activation voltage of a voltage-gated potassium channel based on its amino acid sequence. The best result was obtained with a k-nearest neighbor classifier combined with a wrapper algorithm for feature selection, producing a mean absolute error of prediction of 7.0 mV. The predictor was validated by permutation test and evaluation of independent experimental data. Feature selection identified a number of residues that are predicted to be involved in the voltage sensitive conformation changes; these residues are good target candidates for mutagenesis analysis. Conclusion: Machine learning analysis can identify new testable hypotheses about the structure/ function relationship in the voltage-gated potassium channel family. This approach should be applicable to any protein family if the number of training examples and the sequence diversity of the training set that are necessary for robust prediction are empirically validated. The predictor and datasets can be found at the VKCDB web site [1].

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    © 2005 Li and Gallin; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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    • Li, B., & Gallin, W. J. (2005). Computational identification of residues that modulate voltage sensitivity of voltage-gated potassium channels. BMC Structural Biology, 5, 16. BioMed Central. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6807-5-16