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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26400. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026400. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Pattern of amino acid substitutions in transmembrane domains of β-barrel membrane proteins for detecting remote homologs in bacteria and mitochondria.

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  • 1Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


β-barrel membrane proteins play an important role in controlling the exchange and transport of ions and organic molecules across bacterial and mitochondrial outer membranes. They are also major regulators of apoptosis and are important determinants of bacterial virulence. In contrast to β-helical membrane proteins, their evolutionary pattern of residue substitutions has not been quantified, and there are no scoring matrices appropriate for their detection through sequence alignment. Using a Bayesian Monte Carlo estimator, we have calculated the instantaneous substitution rates of transmembrane domains of bacterial β-barrel membrane proteins. The scoring matrices constructed from the estimated rates, called bbTM for β-barrel Transmembrane Matrices, improve significantly the sensitivity in detecting homologs of β-barrel membrane proteins, while avoiding erroneous selection of both soluble proteins and other membrane proteins of similar composition. The estimated evolutionary patterns are general and can detect β-barrel membrane proteins very remote from those used for substitution rate estimation. Furthermore, despite the separation of 2-3 billion years since the proto-mitochondrion entered the proto-eukaryotic cell, mitochondria outer membrane proteins in eukaryotes can also be detected accurately using these scoring matrices derived from bacteria. This is consistent with the suggestion that there is no eukaryote-specific signals for translocation. With these matrices, remote homologs of β-barrel membrane proteins with known structures can be reliably detected at genome scale, allowing construction of high quality structural models of their transmembrane domains, at the rate of 131 structures per template protein. The scoring matrices will be useful for identification, classification, and functional inference of membrane proteins from genome and metagenome sequencing projects. The estimated substitution pattern will also help to identify key elements important for the structural and functional integrity of β-barrel membrane proteins, and will aid in the design of mutagenesis studies.

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