Tables for
Volume F
Crystallography of biological macromolecules
Edited by M. G. Rossmann and E. Arnold

International Tables for Crystallography (2006). Vol. F, ch. 21.3, p. 520   | 1 | 2 |

Section 21.3.2. Separating evaluation from refinement

O. Dym,a D. Eisenbergb* and T. O. Yeatesc

aUCLA–DOE Laboratory of Structural Biology and Molecular Medicine, UCLA, Box 951570, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1570, USA, bUCLA–DOE Laboratory of Structural Biology and Molecular Medicine, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Molecular Biology Institute and Department of Biological Chemistry, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1570, USA, and  cUCLA–DOE Laboratory of Structural Biology and Molecular Medicine, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1569, USA
Correspondence e-mail:

21.3.2. Separating evaluation from refinement

| top | pdf |

Any property that has been constrained or heavily restrained during refinement of the atomic model, and any property that has been closely monitored during rebuilding, cannot be used as the sole criterion to assess or `prove' the quality of the model. The reason is that if the atomic model is adjusted to optimize a particular property, that property no longer gives an unbiased measure of model accuracy. For example, most refinement programs operate by adjusting atomic positions to minimize the difference between observed and calculated structure-factor amplitudes, known as the R factor or R value. Since the R value is the target of the optimization procedure, it does not provide an independent measure of quality. As a result, the ordinary R value can be misleading. A much more reliable measure is the free R value (Brünger, 1992[link]), which is calculated from a randomly selected subset of the diffraction data that are excluded from the atomic refinement calculations. The importance of using the free R value to monitor refinement is now widely accepted.

Likewise, independent criteria must be employed to judge protein models themselves, aside from the diffraction data. Typical atomic refinement protocols tightly restrain the obvious stereochemical terms, such as bond lengths, angles and planarity. Therefore, low deviation from ideal geometry cannot be presented as proof of the quality of the structure. Independent criteria must be based on higher-level geometric considerations. Several programs that include such evaluations are described here.

Criteria that are useful for assessing the validity of protein models are those that are not directly restrained during the process of refinement. The following three properties of protein models are of this type: (1) the main-chain dihedral angles ; (2) the non-bonded interactions of protein atoms with other protein atoms and with the solvent; and (3) the packing of atoms within the structure. Each of these properties of a proposed model can be compared for consistency with the same property observed in a database of trustworthy structures. To the extent that the property deviates from the values observed for the proteins of the database, the proposed model is suspect. Some of these properties can be computed for each segment of a protein or for local regions in three-dimensional (3D) space. In this way, inaccurate regions within a proposed model can be identified.


Brünger, A. T. (1992). Free R value: a novel statistical quantity for assessing the accuracy of crystal structures. Nature (London), 355, 472–475.Google Scholar

to end of page
to top of page