Phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated serine and threonine residues evolve at different rates in mammals

Mol Biol Evol. 2010 Nov;27(11):2548-54. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq142. Epub 2010 Jun 9.


Protein phosphorylation plays an important role in the regulation of protein function. Phosphorylated residues are generally assumed to be subject to functional constraint, but it has recently been suggested from a comparison of distantly related vertebrate species that most phosphorylated residues evolve at the rates consistent with the surrounding regions. To resolve the controversy, we infer the ancestral phosphoproteome of human and mouse to compare the evolutionary rates of phosphorylated and nonphosphorylated serine (S), threonine (T), and tyrosine (Y) residues. This approach enables accurate estimation of evolutionary rates as it does not assume deep conservation of phosphorylated residues. We show that phosphorylated S/T residues tend to evolve more slowly than nonphosphorylated S/T residues not only in disordered but also in ordered protein regions, indicating evolutionary conservation of phosphorylated S/T residues in mammals. Thus, phosphorylated S/T residues tend to be subject to stronger functional constraint than nonphosphorylated residues regardless of the protein regions in which they reside. In contrast, phosphorylated Y residues evolve at similar rates as nonphosphorylated ones. We also find that the human lineage has gained more phosphorylated T residues and lost fewer phosphorylated Y residues than the mouse lineage. The cause of the gain/loss imbalance remains a mystery but should be worth exploring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phosphoserine / metabolism*
  • Phosphothreonine / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny


  • Phosphothreonine
  • Phosphoserine