The stability of thermophilic proteins has been viewed from different perspectives and there is yet no unified principle to understand this stability. It would be valuable to reveal the most important interactions for designing thermostable proteins for such applications as industrial protein engineering. In this work, we have systematically analyzed the importance of various interactions by computing different parameters such as surrounding hydrophobicity, inter-residue interactions, ion-pairs and hydrogen bonds. The importance of each interaction has been determined by its predicted relative contribution in thermophiles versus the same contribution in mesophilic homologues based on a dataset of 373 protein families. We predict that hydrophobic environment is the major factor for the stability of thermophilic proteins and found that 80% of thermophilic proteins analyzed showed higher hydrophobicity than their mesophilic counterparts. Ion pairs, hydrogen bonds, and interaction energy are also important and favored in 68%, 50%, and 62% of thermophilic proteins, respectively. Interestingly, thermophilic proteins with decreased hydrophobic environments display a greater number of hydrogen bonds and/or ion pairs. The systematic elimination of mesophilic proteins based on surrounding hydrophobicity, interaction energy, and ion pairs/hydrogen bonds, led to correctly identifying 95% of the thermophilic proteins in our analyses. Our analysis was also applied to another, more refined set of 102 thermophilic–mesophilic pairs, which again identified hydrophobicity as a dominant property in 71% of the thermophilic proteins. Further, the notion of surrounding hydrophobicity, which characterizes the hydrophobic behavior of residues in a protein environment, has been applied to the three-dimensional structures of elongation factor-Tu proteins and we found that the thermophilic proteins are enriched with a hydrophobic environment. The results obtained in this work highlight the importance of hydrophobicity as the dominating characteristic in the stability of thermophilic proteins, and we anticipate this will be useful in our attempts to engineering thermostable proteins. © Proteins 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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