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J Mol Biol. 2002 Jan 18;315(3):479-84.

Why are proteins so robust to site mutations?

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Biophysics Research Division, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1055, USA.


There have been repeated observations that proteins are surprisingly robust to site mutations, enduring significant numbers of substitutions with little change in structure, stability, or function. These results are almost paradoxical in light of what is known about random heteropolymers and the sensitivity of their properties to seemingly trivial mutations. To address this discrepancy, the preservation of biological protein properties in the presence of mutation has been interpreted as indicating the independence of selective pressure on such properties. Such results also lead to the prediction that de novo protein design should be relatively easy, in contrast to what is observed. Here, we use a computational model with lattice proteins to demonstrate how this robustness can result from population dynamics during the evolutionary process. As a result, sequence plasticity may be a characteristic of evolutionarily derived proteins and not necessarily a property of designed proteins. This suggests that this robustness must be re-interpreted in evolutionary terms, and has consequences for our understanding of both in vivo and in vitro protein evolution.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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