Shifts in amino acid preferences as proteins evolve: a synthesis of experimental and theoretical work

Protein Sci. 2021 Jul 28. doi: 10.1002/pro.4161. Online ahead of print.


Amino acid preferences vary across sites and time. While variation across sites is widely accepted, the extent and frequency of temporal shifts are contentious. Our understanding of the drivers of amino acid preference change is incomplete: To what extent are temporal shifts driven by adaptive versus nonadaptive evolutionary processes? We review phenomena that cause preferences to vary (e.g., evolutionary Stokes shift, contingency, entrenchment) and clarify how they differ. To determine the extent and prevalence of shifted preferences, we review experimental and theoretical studies. Analyses of natural sequence alignments often detect decreases in homoplasy (convergence and reversions) rates, and variation in replacement rates with time-signals that are consistent with temporally changing preferences. While approaches inferring shifts in preferences from patterns in natural alignments are valuable, they are indirect since multiple mechanisms (both adaptive and nonadaptive) could lead to the observed signal. Alternatively, site-directed mutagenesis experiments allow for a more direct assessment of shifted preferences. They corroborate evidence from multiple sequence alignments, revealing that the preference for an amino acid at a site varies depending on the background sequence. However, shifts in preferences are usually minor in magnitude and sites with significantly shifted preferences are low in frequency. Nevertheless, the small yet consistent perturbations in preferences could jeopardize the accuracy of inference procedures which assume constant preferences. We conclude by discussing if and how such shifts in preferences might influence widely used time-homogenous inference procedures and potential ways to mitigate such effects. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

PMID:34322924 | DOI:10.1002/pro.4161