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Bioinformatics. 2012 Nov 15;28(22):2905-13. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/bts541. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Post-translational modifications induce significant yet not extreme changes to protein structure.

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School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA.



A number of studies of individual proteins have shown that post-translational modifications (PTMs) are associated with structural rearrangements of their target proteins. Although such studies provide critical insights into the mechanics behind the dynamic regulation of protein function, they usually feature examples with relatively large conformational changes. However, with the steady growth of Protein Data Bank (PDB) and available PTM sites, it is now possible to more systematically characterize the role of PTMs as conformational switches. In this study, we ask (1) what is the expected extent of structural change upon PTM, (2) how often are those changes in fact substantial, (3) whether the structural impact is spatially localized or global and (4) whether different PTMs have different signatures.


We exploit redundancy in PDB and, using root-mean-square deviation, study the conformational heterogeneity of groups of protein structures corresponding to identical sequences in their unmodified and modified forms. We primarily focus on the two most abundant PTMs in PDB, glycosylation and phosphorylation, but show that acetylation and methylation have similar tendencies. Our results provide evidence that PTMs induce conformational changes at both local and global level. However, the proportion of large changes is unexpectedly small; only 7% of glycosylated and 13% of phosphorylated proteins undergo global changes >2 Å. Further analysis suggests that phosphorylation stabilizes protein structure by reducing global conformational heterogeneity by 25%. Overall, these results suggest a subtle but common role of allostery in the mechanisms through which PTMs affect regulatory and signaling pathways.



Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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