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Protein Eng. 1997 Apr;10(4):307-16.

An analysis of simultaneous variation in protein structures.

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Computational Biochemistry Research Group, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.


The simultaneous substitution of pairs of buried amino acid side chains during divergent evolution has been examined in a set of protein families with known crystal structures. A weak signal is found that shows that amino acid pairs near in space in the folded structure preferentially undergo substitution in a compensatory way. Three different physicochemical types of covariation 'signals' were then examined separately, with consideration given to the evolutionary distance at which different types of compensation occur. Where the compensatory covariation tends towards retaining the combined residue volumes, the signal is significant only at very low evolutionary distances. Where the covariation compensates for changes in the hydrogen bonding, the signal is strongest at intermediate evolutionary distances. Covariations that compensate for charge variations appeared with equal strength at all the evolutionary distances examined. A recipe is suggested for using the weak covariation signal to assemble the predicted secondary structural elements, where the evolutionary distance, covariation type and weighting are considered together with the tertiary structural context (interior or surface) of the residues being examined.

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