Molecular evolutionary and structural analysis of human UCHL1 gene demonstrates the relevant role of intragenic epistasis in Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders

BMC Evol Biol. 2020 Oct 7;20(1):130. doi: 10.1186/s12862-020-01684-7.


Background: Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. PD associated human UCHL1 (Ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1) gene belongs to the family of deubiquitinases and is known to be highly expressed in neurons (1-2% in soluble form). Several functions of UCHL1 have been proposed including ubiquitin hydrolyze activity, ubiquitin ligase activity and stabilization of the mono-ubiquitin. Mutations in human UCHL1 gene have been associated with PD and other neurodegenerative disorders. The present study aims to decipher the sequence evolutionary pattern and structural dynamics of UCHL1. Furthermore, structural and interactional analysis of UCHL1 was performed to help elucidate the pathogenesis of PD.

Results: The phylogenetic tree topology suggests that the UCHL1 gene had originated in early gnathostome evolutionary history. Evolutionary rate analysis of orthologous sequences reveals strong purifying selection on UCHL1. Comparative structural analysis of UCHL1 pinpoints an important protein segment spanning amino acid residues 32 to 39 within secretion site with crucial implications in evolution and PD pathogenesis through a well known phenomenon called intragenic epistasis. Identified critical protein segment appears to play an indispensable role in protein stability, proper protein conformation as well as harboring critical interaction sites.

Conclusions: Conclusively, the critical protein segment of UCHL1 identified in the present study not only demonstrates the relevant role of intraprotein conformational epistasis in the pathophysiology of PD but also offers a novel therapeutic target for the disease.

Keywords: Epistasis; Neurodegenerative diseases; Parkinson’s disease; SNCA; UCHL1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Parkinson Disease* / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase / genetics*


  • UCHL1 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase