Protein-protein interactions are intriguing though challenging targets for lead discovery, and fragment-based approaches have often been used to tackle them (for example here, here and here). One of the difficulties is trying to figure out which of the often many residues in a large contact surface are really important. To make this easier, Lidio Meireles, Alexander Dömling, and Carlos Camacho at University of Pittsburgh have unveiled a free web-based tool, described in a recent issue of Nucleic Acids Research.
The tool, called ANCHOR, is both a server and a database of protein-protein interactions. The database contains over 30,000 entries taken from the protein data bank (PDB). Each of these entries has been analyzed computationally. ANCHOR examines bound and free (as computationally isolated from the complex) forms of each protein, focusing on side chains that, depending on protein state, are either buried within the partner protein or exposed to solvent. The change in solvent-accessible surface area is calculated for every residue in the protein-protein contact area. ANCHOR also estimates each residue’s contribution to the binding free energy, using both electrostatic and solvation terms in the calculation.
While the absolute numbers should probably be taken with a grain of salt, the relative values could help identify “anchoring” residues most likely to be useful as initial fragments. This means you can enter a pdb number and rapidly find the residues likely to be most important. You can also do more complex queries across the entire database, for example searching for buried tryptophan residues for oncology targets. If your protein is not already in the database, you also have the option of uploading a structure for custom analysis.
What makes ANCHOR particularly appealing is its powerful graphical interface, which shows which residues are selected and allows significant customization. The whole system is quite intuitive and easy to use. Try it on your favorite protein-protein interaction and tell us what you think!