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J Biol Chem. 2003 Mar 7;278(10):8733-8. Epub 2002 Dec 16.

Identification of residues in glutathione transferase capable of driving functional diversification in evolution. A novel approach to protein redesign.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Uppsala University, Biomedical Center, Box 576, Sweden.


Evolution of protein function can be driven by positive selection of advantageous nonsynonymous codon mutations that arise following gene duplication. By observing the presence and degree of site-specific positive selection for change between divergent paralogs, residue positions responsible for functional changes can be identified. We applied this analysis to genes encoding Mu class glutathione transferases, which differ widely in substrate specificities. Approximately 3% of the amino acid residue positions, both near to and distant from the active site, are under statistically significant positive selection for change. Relevant human glutathione transferase (GST) M1-1 and GST M2-2 codons were mutated. A chemically conservative threonine to serine mutation in GST M2-2 elicited a 1,000-fold increase in specific activity with the GST M1-1-specific substrate trans-stilbene oxide and a 30-fold increase with the alternative epoxide substrates styrene oxide and nitrophenyl glycidol. The reverse mutation in GST M1-1 resulted in reciprocal decreases in activity. Thus, identification of hypervariable codon positions can be a powerful aid in the redesign of protein function, lessening the requirement for extensive mutagenesis or structural knowledge and sometimes suggesting mutations that would otherwise be considered functionally conservative.

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