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PLoS Comput Biol. 2019 Dec 23;15(12):e1007569. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007569. eCollection 2019 Dec.

Functional analysis of Rossmann-like domains reveals convergent evolution of topology and reaction pathways.

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Departments of Biophysics and Biochemistry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, United States of America.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, United States of America.


Rossmann folds are ancient, frequently diverged domains found in many biological reaction pathways where they have adapted for different functions. Consequently, discernment and classification of their homologous relations and function can be complicated. We define a minimal Rossmann-like structure motif (RLM) that corresponds for the common core of known Rossmann domains and use this motif to identify all RLM domains in the Protein Data Bank (PDB), thus finding they constitute about 20% of all known 3D structures. The Evolutionary Classification of protein structure Domains (ECOD) classifies RLM domains in a number of groups that lack evidence for homology (X-groups), which suggests that they could have evolved independently multiple times. Closely related, homologous RLM enzyme families can diverge to bind different ligands using similar binding sites and to catalyze different reactions. Conversely, non-homologous RLM domains can converge to catalyze the same reactions or to bind the same ligand with alternate binding modes. We discuss a special case of such convergent evolution that is relevant to the polypharmacology paradigm, wherein the same drug (methotrexate) binds to multiple non-homologous RLM drug targets with different topologies. Finally, assigning proteins with RLM domain to the Enzyme Commission classification suggest that RLM enzymes function mainly in metabolism (and comprise 38% of reference metabolic pathways) and are overrepresented in extant pathways that represent ancient biosynthetic routes such as nucleotide metabolism, energy metabolism, and metabolism of amino acids. In fact, RLM enzymes take part in five out of eight enzymatic reactions of the Wood-Ljungdahl metabolic pathway thought to be used by the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). The prevalence of RLM domains in this ancient metabolism might explain their wide distribution among enzymes.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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