Relation between protein stability, evolution and structure, as probed by carboxylic acid mutations

J Mol Biol. 2004 Feb 13;336(2):313-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2003.12.048.


Native proteins are marginally stable. Low thermodynamic stability may actually be advantageous, although the accumulation of neutral, destabilizing mutations may have also contributed to it. In any case, once marginal stability has been reached, it appears plausible that mutations at non-constrained positions become fixed in the course of evolution (due to random drift) with frequencies that roughly reflect the mutation effects on stability ("pseudo-equilibrium hypothesis"). We have found that all glutamate-->aspartate mutations in wild-type Escherichia coli thioredoxin are destabilizing, as well as most of the aspartate-->glutamate mutations. Furthermore, the effect of these mutations on thioredoxin thermodynamic stability shows a robust correlation with the frequencies of occurrence of the involved residues in several-hundred sequence alignments derived from a BLAST search. These results provide direct and quantitative experimental evidence for the pseudo-equilibrium hypothesis and should have general consequences for the interpretation of mutation effects on protein stability, as they suggest that residue environments in proteins may be optimized for stabilizing interactions to a remarkable degree of specificity. We also provide evidence that such stabilizing interactions may be detected in sequence alignments, and briefly discuss the implications of this possibility for the derivation of structural information (on native and denatured states) from comparative sequence analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspartic Acid / genetics*
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Glutamic Acid / genetics*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Mutation*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Thioredoxins / chemistry
  • Thioredoxins / genetics
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism


  • Proteins
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Thioredoxins