Inferring Methionine Sulfoxidation and serine Phosphorylation crosstalk from Phylogenetic analyses

BMC Evol Biol. 2017 Jul 27;17(1):171. doi: 10.1186/s12862-017-1017-9.


Background: The sulfoxidation of methionine residues within the phosphorylation motif of protein kinase substrates, may provide a mechanism to couple oxidative signals to changes in protein phosphorylation. Herein, we hypothesize that if the residues within a pair of phosphorylatable-sulfoxidable sites are functionally linked, then they might have been coevolving. To test this hypothesis a number of site pairs previously detected on human stress-related proteins has been subjected to analysis using eukaryote ortholog sequences and a phylogenetic approach.

Results: Overall, the results support the conclusion that in the eIF2α protein, serine phosphorylation at position 218 and methionine oxidation at position 222, belong to the same functional network. First, the observed data were much better fitted by Markovian models that assumed coevolution of both sites, with respect to their counterparts assuming independent evolution (p-value = 0.003). Second, this conclusion was robust with respect to the methods used to reconstruct the phylogenetic relationship between the 233 eukaryotic species analyzed. Third, the co-distribution of phosphorylatable and sulfoxidable residues at these positions showed multiple origins throughout the evolution of eukaryotes, which further supports the view of an adaptive value for this co-occurrence. Fourth, the possibility that the coevolution of these two sites might be due to structure-driven compensatory mutations was evaluated. The results suggested that factors other than those merely structural were behind the observed coevolution. Finally, the relationship detected between other modifiable site pairs from ataxin-2 (S814-M815), ataxin-2-like (S211-M215) and Pumilio homolog 1 (S124-M125), reinforce the view of a role for phosphorylation-sulfoxidation crosstalk.

Conclusions: For the four stress-related proteins analyzed herein, their respective pairs of PTM sites (phosphorylatable serine and sulfoxidable methionine) were found to be evolving in a correlated fashion, which suggests a relevant role for methionine sulfoxidation and serine phosphorylation crosstalk in the control of protein translation under stress conditions.

Keywords: Coevolution; Cytoplasmic stress granules; Oxidative stress; Post-translational modification; Sulfoxide; eIF2α.

MeSH terms

  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2 / chemistry
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Markov Chains
  • Methionine / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phosphorylation
  • Phosphoserine / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Sulfur / metabolism*


  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-2
  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Phosphoserine
  • Sulfur
  • Methionine