Benchmarking protein–protein interface predictions: Why you should care about protein size


  • Juliette Martin

    Corresponding author
    1. Bases Moléculaires et Structurales des Systèmes Infectieux, CNRS, UMR 5086; Université Lyon 1, France
    • Correspondence to: Juliette Martin, Bases Moléculaires et Structurales des Systèmes Infectieux; CNRS, UMR 5086; Université Lyon 1; IBCP, 7 passage du Vercors F-69367, France. E-mail:

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A number of predictive methods have been developed to predict protein–protein binding sites. Each new method is traditionally benchmarked using sets of protein structures of various sizes, and global statistics are used to assess the quality of the prediction. Little attention has been paid to the potential bias due to protein size on these statistics. Indeed, small proteins involve proportionally more residues at interfaces than large ones. If a predictive method is biased toward small proteins, this can lead to an over-estimation of its performance. Here, we investigate the bias due to the size effect when benchmarking protein-protein interface prediction on the widely used docking benchmark 4.0. First, we simulate random scores that favor small proteins over large ones. Instead of the 0.5 AUC (Area Under the Curve) value expected by chance, these biased scores result in an AUC equal to 0.6 using hypergeometric distributions, and up to 0.65 using constant scores. We then use real prediction results to illustrate how to detect the size bias by shuffling, and subsequently correct it using a simple conversion of the scores into normalized ranks. In addition, we investigate the scores produced by eight published methods and show that they are all affected by the size effect, which can change their relative ranking. The size effect also has an impact on linear combination scores by modifying the relative contributions of each method. In the future, systematic corrections should be applied when benchmarking predictive methods using data sets with mixed protein sizes. Proteins 2014; 82:1444–1452. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.