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Biopolymers. 1997 Oct 5;42(4):427-38.

The foldability landscape of model proteins.

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Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-1055, USA.


Molecular evolution may be considered as a walk in a multidimensional fitness landscape, where the fitness at each point is associated with features such as the function, stability, and survivability of these molecules. We present a simple model for the evolution of protein sequences on a landscape with a precisely defined fitness function. We use simple lattice models to represent protein structures, with the ability of a protein sequence to fold into the structure with lowest energy, quantified as the foldability, representing the fitness of the sequence. The foldability of the sequence is characterized based on the spin glass model of protein folding. We consider evolution as a walk in this foldability landscape and study the nature of the landscape and the resulting dynamics. Selective pressure is explicitly included in this model in the form of a minimum foldability requirement. We find that different native structures are not evenly distributed in interaction space, with similar structures and structures with similar optimal foldabilities clustered together. Evolving proteins marginally fulfill the selective criteria of foldability. As the selective pressure is increased, evolutionary trajectories become increasingly confined to "neutral networks," where the sequence and the interactions can be significantly changed while a constant structure is maintained.

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