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The majority of proteins form oligomers which have rotational symmetry. Literature has suggested many functional advantages that the symmetric packing offers. Yet, despite these advantages, the vast majority of protein oligomers are only nearly symmetric. A key question in the field of proteins structure is therefore, if symmetry is so advantageous, why do oligomers settle for aggregates that do not maximize that structural property? The answer to that question is apparently multi-parametric, and involves distortions at the interaction zones of the monomer units of the oligomer in order to minimize the free energy, the dynamics of the protein, the effects of surroundings parameters, and the mechanism of oligomerization. The study of this problem is in its infancy: Only the first parameter has been explored so far. Here we focus on the last parameter-the mechanism of formation. To test this effect we have selected to focus on the domain swapping mechanism of oligomerization, by which oligomers form in a mechanism that swaps identical portions of monomeric units, resulting in an interwoven oligomer. We are using continuous symmetry measures to analyze in detail the oligomer formed by this mechanism, and found, that without exception, in all analyzed cases, perfect symmetry is given away, and we are able to identify that the main burden of distortion lies in the hinge regions that connect the swapped portions. We show that the continuous symmetry analysis method clearly identifies the hinge region of swapped domain proteins-considered to be a non-trivial task. We corroborate our conclusion about the central role of the hinge region in affecting the symmetry of the oligomers, by a special probability analysis developed particularly for that purpose.


Maayan Bonjack-Shterengartz, David Avnir. The enigma of the near-symmetry of proteins: Domain swapping. PloS one. 2017;12(7):e0180030

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PMID: 28708874

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