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Background: Deep learning is one of the most powerful machine learning methods that has achieved the state-of-the-art performance in many domains. Since deep learning was introduced to the field of bioinformatics in 2012, it has achieved success in a number of areas such as protein residue-residue contact prediction, secondary structure prediction, and fold recognition. In this work, we developed deep learning methods to improve the prediction of torsion (dihedral) angles of proteins. Results: We design four different deep learning architectures to predict protein torsion angles. The architectures including deep neural network (DNN) and deep restricted Boltzmann machine (DRBN), deep recurrent neural network (DRNN) and deep recurrent restricted Boltzmann machine (DReRBM) since the protein torsion angle prediction is a sequence related problem. In addition to existing protein features, two new features (predicted residue contact number and the error distribution of torsion angles extracted from sequence fragments) are used as input to each of the four deep learning architectures to predict phi and psi angles of protein backbone. The mean absolute error (MAE) of phi and psi angles predicted by DRNN, DReRBM, DRBM and DNN is about 20-21° and 29-30° on an independent dataset. The MAE of phi angle is comparable to the existing methods, but the MAE of psi angle is 29°, 2° lower than the existing methods. On the latest CASP12 targets, our methods also achieved the performance better than or comparable to a state-of-the art method. Conclusions: Our experiment demonstrates that deep learning is a valuable method for predicting protein torsion angles. The deep recurrent network architecture performs slightly better than deep feed-forward architecture, and the predicted residue contact number and the error distribution of torsion angles extracted from sequence fragments are useful features for improving prediction accuracy.

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BMC Bioinformatics