Conserved proteins are fragile

Raquel Assis, Alexey S. Kondrashov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Levels of selective constraint vary among proteins. Although strong constraint on a protein is often attributed to its functional importance, evolutionary rate may also be limited if a protein is fragile, such that a large proportion of amino acid replacements reduce its fitness. To determine the relative contributions of essentiality and fragility to selective constraint, we compared relationships of selection against nonsense mutations (s non) and selection against missense mutations (smis) to protein sequence conservation (Ka). As expected, snon is greater than smis; however, the correlation between smis and Ka is nearly three times stronger than the correlation between snon and Ka. Moreover, examination of relationships to gene expression level, tissue specificity, and number of protein-protein interactions shows that smis is more strongly correlated than s non to all three measures of biological function. Thus, our analysis reveals that slowly evolving proteins are under strong selective constraint primarily because they are fragile, and that this association likely exists because allowing a protein to function improperly, rather than removing it from a biological network, can negatively affect the functions of other molecules it interacts with and their downstream products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-424
Number of pages6
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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