The millions of protein sequences generated by genomics are expected to transform protein engineering and personalized medicine. To achieve these goals, tools for predicting outcomes of amino acid changes must be improved. Currently, advances are hampered by insufficient experimental data about nonconserved amino acid positions. Since the property “nonconserved” is identified using a sequence alignment, we designed experiments to recapitulate that context: Mutagenesis and functional characterization was carried out in 15 LacI/GalR homologs (rows) at 12 nonconserved positions (columns). Multiple substitutions were made at each position, to reveal how various amino acids of a nonconserved column were tolerated in each protein row. Results showed that amino acid preferences of nonconserved positions were highly context-dependent, had few correlations with physico-chemical similarities, and were not predictable from their occurrence in natural LacI/GalR sequences. Further, unlike the “toggle switch” behaviors of conserved positions, substitutions at nonconserved positions could be rank-ordered to show a “rheostatic”, progressive effect on function that spanned several orders of magnitude. Comparisons to various sequence analyses suggested that conserved and strongly co-evolving positions act as functional toggles, whereas other important, nonconserved positions serve as rheostats for modifying protein function. Both the presence of rheostat positions and the sequence analysis strategy appear to be generalizable to other protein families and should be considered when engineering protein modifications or predicting the impact of protein polymorphisms.
A grant from the One-University Open Access Fund at the University of Kansas was used to defray the author’s publication fees in this Open Access journal. The Open Access Fund, administered by librarians from the KU, KU Law, and KUMC libraries, is made possible by contributions from the offices of KU Provost, KU Vice Chancellor for Research & Graduate Studies, and KUMC Vice Chancellor for Research. For more information about the Open Access Fund, please see http://library.kumc.edu/authors-fund.xml.
Meinhardt S, Manley MW Jr, Parente DJ, Swint-Kruse L (2013) Rheostats and Toggle Switches for Modulating Protein Function. PLoS ONE 8(12): e83502. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083502