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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 May;28(5):1565-8. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr013. Epub 2011 Jan 27.

Rampant purifying selection conserves positions with posttranslational modifications in human proteins.

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Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, The Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University.


Posttranslational modifications (PTMs) are chemical alterations that are critical to protein conformation and activation states. Despite their functional importance and reported involvement in many diseases, evolutionary analyses have produced enigmatic results because only weak or no selective pressures have been attributed to many types of PTMs. In a large-scale analysis of 16,836 PTM positions from 4,484 human proteins, we find that positions harboring PTMs show evidence of higher purifying selection in 70% of the phosphorylated and N-linked glycosylated proteins. The purifying selection is up to 42% more severe at PTM residues as compared with the corresponding unmodified amino acids. These results establish extensive selective pressures in the long-term history of positions that experience PTMs in the human proteins. Our findings will enhance our understanding of the historical function of PTMs over time and help in predicting PTM positions by using evolutionary comparisons.

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