Protein Abundance Biases the Amino Acid Composition of Disordered Regions to Minimize Non-functional Interactions

Benjamin Dubreuil, Or Matalon, Emmanuel D. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In eukaryotes, disordered regions cover up to 50% of proteomes and mediate fundamental cellular processes. In contrast to globular domains, where about half of the amino acids are buried in the protein interior, disordered regions show higher solvent accessibility, which makes them prone to engage in non-functional interactions. Such interactions are exacerbated by the law of mass action, prompting the question of how they are minimized in abundant proteins. We find that interaction propensity or “stickiness” of disordered regions negatively correlates with their cellular abundance, both in yeast and human. Strikingly, considering yeast proteins where a large fraction of the sequence is disordered, the correlation between stickiness and abundance reaches R = − 0.55. Beyond this global amino-acid composition bias, we identify three rules by which amino-acid composition of disordered regions adjusts with high abundance. First, lysines are preferred over arginines, consistent with the latter amino acid being stickier than the former. Second, compensatory effects exist, whereby a sticky region can be tolerated if it is compensated by a distal non-sticky region. Third, such compensation requires a lower average stickiness at the same abundance when compared to a scenario where stickiness is homogeneous throughout the sequence. We validate these rules experimentally, employing them as different strategies to rescue an otherwise sticky protein fragment from aggregation. Our results highlight that non-functional interactions represent a significant constraint in cellular systems and reveal simple rules by which protein sequences adapt to that constraint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4978-4992
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number24
StatePublished - 6 Dec 2019


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