Functional evolution within a protein superfamily



The ability to predict and characterize distributions of reactivities over families and even superfamilies of proteins opens the door to an array of analyses regarding functional evolution. In this article, insights into functional evolution in the Kazal inhibitor superfamily are gained by analyzing and comparing predicted association free energy distributions against six serine proteinases, over a number of groups of inhibitors: all possible Kazal inhibitors, natural avian ovomucoid first and third domains, and sets of Kazal inhibitors with statistically weighted combinations of residues. The results indicate that, despite the great hypervariability of residues in the 10 proteinase-binding positions, avian ovomucoid third domains evolved to inhibit enzymes similar to the six enzymes selected, whereas the orthologous first domains are not inhibitors of these enzymes on purpose. Hypervariability arises because of similarity in energetic contribution from multiple residue types; conservation is in terms of functionality, with “good” residues, which make positive or less deleterious contributions to the binding, selected more frequently, and yielding overall the same distributional characteristics. Further analysis of the distributions indicates that while nature did optimize inhibitor strength, the objective may not have been the strongest possible inhibitor against one enzyme but rather an inhibitor that is relatively strong against a number of enzymes. Proteins 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.