Document Type


Publication Date



Evolution, Protein Structure, Intrinsically Disordered Protein, Substitution Matrix

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Most models of protein evolution are based upon proteins that form relatively rigid 3D structures. A significant fraction of proteins, the so-called disordered proteins, do not form rigid 3D structures and sample a broad conformational ensemble. Disordered proteins do not typically maintain long-range interactions, so the constraints on their evolution should be different than ordered proteins. To test this hypothesis, we developed and compared models of evolution for disordered and ordered proteins. Substitution matrices were constructed using the sequences of putative homologs for sets of experimentally characterized disordered and ordered proteins. Separate matrices, at three levels of sequence similarity (>85%, 85–60%, and 60–40%), were inferred for each type of protein structure. The substitution matrices for disordered and ordered proteins differed significantly at each level of sequence similarity. The disordered matrices reflected a greater likelihood of evolutionary changes, relative to the ordered matrices, and these changes involved nonconservative substitutions. Glutamic acid and asparagine were interesting exceptions to this result. Important differences between the substitutions that are accepted in disordered proteins relative to ordered proteins were also identified. In general, disordered proteins have fewer evolutionary constraints than ordered proteins. However, some residues like tryptophan and tyrosine are highly conserved in disordered proteins. This is due to their important role in forming protein–protein interfaces. Finally, the amino acid frequencies for disordered proteins, computed during the development of the matrices, were compared with amino acid frequencies for different categories of secondary structure in ordered proteins. The highest correlations were observed between the amino acid frequencies in disordered proteins and the solvent-exposed loops and turns of ordered proteins, supporting an emerging structural model for disordered proteins.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Molecular Biology and Evolution, v. 27, issue 3, p. 609-621

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.