Naturally occurring circular permutations in proteins

S. Uliel, A. Fliess, R. Unger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


A pair of proteins is defined to be related by a circular permutation if the N-terminal region of one protein has significant sequence similarity to the C-terminal of the other and vice versa. To detect pairs of proteins that might be related by circular permutation, we implemented a procedure based on a combination of a fast screening algorithm that we had designed and manual verification of candidate pairs. The screening algorithm is a variation of a dynamic programming string matching algorithm, in which one of the sequences is doubled. This algorithm, although not guaranteed to identify all cases of circular permutation, is a good first indicator of protein pairs related by permutation events. The candidate pairs were further validated first by application of an exhaustive string matching algorithm and then by manual inspection using the dotplot visual tool. Screening the whole Swissprot database, a total of 25 independent protein pairs were identified. These cases are presented here, divided into three categories depending on the level of functional similarity of the related proteins. To validate our approach and to confirm further the small number of circularly permuted protein pairs, a systematic search for cases of circular permutation was carried out in the Pfam database of protein domains. Even with this more inclusive definition of a circular permutation, only seven additional candidates were found. None of these fitted our original definition of circular permutations. The small number of cases of circular permutation suggests that there is no mechanism of local genetic manipulation that can induce circular permutations; most examples observed seem to result from fusion of functional units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-542
Number of pages10
JournalProtein Engineering
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Circular permutations
  • Database searches
  • Domain fusion
  • Edit distance


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