We have introduced a new method of protein secondary structure prediction which is based on the theory of support vector machine (SVM). SVM represents a new approach to supervised pattern classification which has been successfully applied to a wide range of pattern recognition problems, including object recognition, speaker identification, gene function prediction with microarray expression profile, etc. In these cases, the performance of SVM either matches or is significantly better than that of traditional machine learning approaches, including neural networks.The first use of the SVM approach to predict protein secondary structure is described here. Unlike the previous studies, we first constructed several binary classifiers, then assembled a tertiary classifier for three secondary structure states (helix, sheet and coil) based on these binary classifiers. The SVM method achieved a good performance of segment overlap accuracy SOV=76.2 % through sevenfold cross validation on a database of 513 non-homologous protein chains with multiple sequence alignments, which out-performs existing methods. Meanwhile three-state overall per-residue accuracy Q(3) achieved 73.5 %, which is at least comparable to existing single prediction methods. Furthermore a useful "reliability index" for the predictions was developed. In addition, SVM has many attractive features, including effective avoidance of overfitting, the ability to handle large feature spaces, information condensing of the given data set, etc. The SVM method is conveniently applied to many other pattern classification tasks in biology. Copyright 2001 Academic Press.