Emergence of Preferred Structures in a Simple Model of Protein Folding

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Science  02 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5275, pp. 666-669
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5275.666


Protein structures in nature often exhibit a high degree of regularity (for example, secondary structure and tertiary symmetries) that is absent from random compact conformations. With the use of a simple lattice model of protein folding, it was demonstrated that structural regularities are related to high “designability” and evolutionary stability. The designability of each compact structure is measured by the number of sequences that can design the structure—that is, sequences that possess the structure as their nondegenerate ground state. Compact structures differ markedly in terms of their designability; highly designable structures emerge with a number of associated sequences much larger than the average. These highly designable structures possess “proteinlike” secondary structure and even tertiary symmetries. In addition, they are thermodynamically more stable than other structures. These results suggest that protein structures are selected in nature because they are readily designed and stable against mutations, and that such a selection simultaneously leads to thermodynamic stability.