How Many Protein Sequences Fold to a Given Structure? A Coevolutionary Analysis
Quantifying the relationship between protein sequence and structure is key to understanding the protein universe. A fundamental measure of this relationship is the total number of amino acid sequences that can fold to a target protein structure, known as the "sequence capacity," which has been suggested as a proxy for how designable a given protein fold is. Although sequence capacity has been extensively studied using lattice models and theory, numerical estimates for real protein structures are currently lacking. In this work, we have quantitatively estimated the sequence capacity of 10 proteins with a variety of different structures using a statistical model based on residue-residue co-evolution to capture the variation of sequences from the same protein family. Remarkably, we find that even for the smallest protein folds, such as the WW domain, the number of foldable sequences is extremely large, exceeding the Avogadro constant. In agreement with earlier theoretical work, the calculated sequence capacity is positively correlated with the size of the protein, or better, the density of contacts. This allows the absolute sequence capacity of a given protein to be approximately predicted from its structure. On the other hand, the relative sequence capacity, i.e., normalized by the total number of possible sequences, is an extremely tiny number and is strongly anti-correlated with the protein length. Thus, although there may be more foldable sequences for larger proteins, it will be much harder to find them. Lastly, we have correlated the evolutionary age of proteins in the CATH database with their sequence capacity as predicted by our model. The results suggest a trade-off between the opposing requirements of high designability and the likelihood of a novel fold emerging by chance.
Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(17)30934-7
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