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Bioessays. 2003 Sep;25(9):847-55.

Intrinsically unstructured proteins evolve by repeat expansion.

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Institute of Enzymology, Biological Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1518 Budapest, PO Box 7, Hungary.


The proportion of the genome encoding intrinsically unstructured proteins increases with the complexity of organisms, which demands specific mechanism(s) for generating novel genetic material of this sort. Here it is suggested that one such mechanism is the expansion of internal repeat regions, i.e., coding micro- and minisatellites. An analysis of 126 known unstructured sequences shows the preponderance of repeats: the percentage of proteins with tandemly repeated short segments is much higher in this class (39%) than earlier reported for all Swiss-Prot (14%), yeast (18%) or human (28%) proteins. Furthermore, prime examples, such as salivary proline-rich proteins, titin, eukaryotic RNA polymerase II, the prion protein and several others, demonstrate that the repetitive segments carry fundamental function in these proteins. In addition, their repeat numbers show functionally significant interspecies variation and polymorphism, which underlines that these regions have been shaped by intense evolutionary activity. In all, the major point of this paper is that the genetic instability of repetitive regions combined with the structurally and functionally permissive nature of unstructured proteins has powered the extension and possible functional expansion of this newly recognized protein class.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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