Evolution of protein interfaces in multimers and fibrils Academic Article uri icon

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  • A majority of cellular proteins function as part of multimeric complexes of two or more subunits. Multimer formation requires interactions between protein surfaces that lead to closed structures, such as dimers and tetramers. If proteins interact in an open-ended way, uncontrolled growth of fibrils can occur, which is likely to be detrimental in most cases. We present a statistical physics model that allows aggregation of proteins as either closed dimers or open fibrils of all lengths. We use pairwise amino-acid contact energies to calculate the energies of interacting protein surfaces. The probabilities of all possible aggregate configurations can be calculated for any given sequence of surface amino acids. We link the statistical physics model to a population genetics model that describes the evolution of the surface residues. When proteins evolve neutrally, without selection for or against multimer formation, we find that a majority of proteins remain as monomers at moderate concentrations, but strong dimer-forming or fibril-forming sequences are also possible. If selection is applied in favor of dimers or in favor of fibrils, then it is easy to select either dimer-forming or fibril-forming sequences. It is also possible to select for oriented fibrils with protein subunits all aligned in the same direction. We measure the propensities of amino acids to occur at interfaces relative to noninteracting surfaces and show that the propensities in our model are strongly correlated with those that have been measured in real protein structures. We also show that there are significant differences between amino acid frequencies at isologous and heterologous interfaces in our model, and we observe that similar effects occur in real protein structures.


  • Zabel, W Jeffrey
  • Hagner, Kyle P
  • Livesey, Benjamin J
  • Marsh, Joseph A
  • Setayeshgar, Sima
  • Lynch, Michael
  • Higgs, Paul

publication date

  • June 14, 2019