Research Article

Evolution of oligomeric state through allosteric pathways that mimic ligand binding

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Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, 1254346
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254346

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Structured Abstract

Introduction

Evolution and design of protein complexes are frequently viewed through the lens of amino acid mutations at protein interfaces, but we showed previously that residues distant from interfaces are also commonly involved in the evolution of alternative quaternary structures. We hypothesized that in these protein families, the difference in oligomeric state is due to a change in intersubunit geometry. The indirect mutations would act by changing protein conformation and dynamics, similar to the way in which allosteric small molecules introduce functional conformational change. We refer to these substitutions as “allosteric mutations.”

Embedded Image

Allosteric mutations change oligomeric state by employing the same conformational dynamics as ligands. PyrR homologs differ by mutations, all of which are outside the tetrameric interface. A subset of these allosteric mutations can be used to engineer a shift in oligomeric state in the ancestral PyrR. Allosteric mutations act by introducing conformational change in a manner analogous to that of the allosteric ligands.

Rationale

In this work, we investigate the mechanism of action of allosteric mutations on oligomeric state in the PyrR family of pyrimidine operon attenuators. In this family, an entirely sequence-conserved helix that forms a tetrameric interface in the thermophilic ortholog (BcPyrR) switches to being solvent-exposed in the mesophilic ortholog (BsPyrR). This results in a homodimeric structure in which the two subunits are clearly rotated relative to their orientation in the tetramer. What is the origin of this rotation and the change in quaternary structure? To dissect the role of the 49 substitutions between BsPyrR and BcPyrR, we used ancestral sequence reconstruction in combination with structural and biophysical methods to identify a set of allosteric mutations that are responsible for this shift in conformation. We compared the conformational changes introduced by the mutations to the protein motion during allosteric regulation by guanosine monophosphate (GMP).

Results

We identified 11 key mutations controlling oligomeric state, all distant from the interfaces and outside ligand-binding pockets. We confirmed the role of these allosteric mutations by engineering a shift in oligomeric state in an inferred ancestral PyrR protein (intermediate in sequence between the extant orthologs). We further used the inferred ancestral states and their mutants to show that the allosteric mutations are part of a downhill adaptation of the PyrR proteins to lower temperatures. We compared the x-ray crystal structures of ancestral and engineered PyrR proteins to the free and GMP-bound structure of the mesophilic BsPyrR, which shifts its equilibrium from dimer to tetramer upon ligand binding. Binding of the allosteric molecule introduces a change in intersubunit geometry that is equivalent to the evolutionary difference in intersubunit geometry between the dimeric and tetrameric homologs. We further find that the difference in oligomeric state is coupled to the difference in intrinsic dynamics of the dimers. Finally, we used the residue-residue contact network approach to show that the residues corresponding to the allosteric mutations undergo large contact rewiring when the intersubunit geometry and, in turn, oligomeric state change, either by GMP binding or by the introduction of allosteric mutations.

Conclusion

We show that evolution employs the intrinsic dynamics of this protein to toggle a conformational switch in a manner similar to that of small molecules. Shifting the relative populations of different states by subtle modifications is a process central to protein function and, as shown here, also to protein evolution. This suggests that we can learn from evolution and design proteins with multiple conformational states.

Abstract

Evolution and design of protein complexes are almost always viewed through the lens of amino acid mutations at protein interfaces. We showed previously that residues not involved in the physical interaction between proteins make important contributions to oligomerization by acting indirectly or allosterically. In this work, we sought to investigate the mechanism by which allosteric mutations act, using the example of the PyrR family of pyrimidine operon attenuators. In this family, a perfectly sequence-conserved helix that forms a tetrameric interface is exposed as solvent-accessible surface in dimeric orthologs. This means that mutations must be acting from a distance to destabilize the interface. We identified 11 key mutations controlling oligomeric state, all distant from the interfaces and outside ligand-binding pockets. Finally, we show that the key mutations introduce conformational changes equivalent to the conformational shift between the free versus nucleotide-bound conformations of the proteins.

Controlling the state of dynamic proteins

Small molecules that change the oligomeric state of proteins by binding to a site distant from the interface are called allosteric. They often act by taking advantage of intrinsic protein dynamics and stabilizing a particular conformation of the protein. Perica et al. show that mutations can similarly act at a distance to change protein conformation. They identified 11 mutations in an RNA- binding protein that determine whether it is stable as a dimer or a tetramer. Examination of ancestral sequences showed that the allosteric mutations are part of a downhill adaptation to lower environmental temperatures. This mechanism for modulating the oligomeric state is probably common in evolution.

Science, this issue 10.1126/science.1254346

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