Residue mutations and their impact on protein structure and function: detecting beneficial and pathogenic changes

Biochem J. 2013 Feb 1;449(3):581-94. doi: 10.1042/BJ20121221.


The present review focuses on the evolution of proteins and the impact of amino acid mutations on function from a structural perspective. Proteins evolve under the law of natural selection and undergo alternating periods of conservative evolution and of relatively rapid change. The likelihood of mutations being fixed in the genome depends on various factors, such as the fitness of the phenotype or the position of the residues in the three-dimensional structure. For example, co-evolution of residues located close together in three-dimensional space can occur to preserve global stability. Whereas point mutations can fine-tune the protein function, residue insertions and deletions ('decorations' at the structural level) can sometimes modify functional sites and protein interactions more dramatically. We discuss recent developments and tools to identify such episodic mutations, and examine their applications in medical research. Such tools have been tested on simulated data and applied to real data such as viruses or animal sequences. Traditionally, there has been little if any cross-talk between the fields of protein biophysics, protein structure-function and molecular evolution. However, the last several years have seen some exciting developments in combining these approaches to obtain an in-depth understanding of how proteins evolve. For example, a better understanding of how structural constraints affect protein evolution will greatly help us to optimize our models of sequence evolution. The present review explores this new synthesis of perspectives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics
  • Humans
  • INDEL Mutation
  • Infections / genetics
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Molecular
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Protein Interaction Domains and Motifs / genetics
  • Protein Stability
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Proteins