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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Domain architecture conservation in orthologs

Kristoffer Forslund12, Isabella Pekkari12 and Erik LL Sonnhammer123*

Author Affiliations

1 Stockholm Bioinformatics Centre, Science for Life Laboratory, Box 1031, Solna, 17121 Sweden

2 Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stockholm University

3 Swedish eScience Research Center

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BMC Bioinformatics 2011, 12:326  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-12-326

Published: 5 August 2011

Abstract

Background

As orthologous proteins are expected to retain function more often than other homologs, they are often used for functional annotation transfer between species. However, ortholog identification methods do not take into account changes in domain architecture, which are likely to modify a protein's function. By domain architecture we refer to the sequential arrangement of domains along a protein sequence.

To assess the level of domain architecture conservation among orthologs, we carried out a large-scale study of such events between human and 40 other species spanning the entire evolutionary range. We designed a score to measure domain architecture similarity and used it to analyze differences in domain architecture conservation between orthologs and paralogs relative to the conservation of primary sequence. We also statistically characterized the extents of different types of domain swapping events across pairs of orthologs and paralogs.

Results

The analysis shows that orthologs exhibit greater domain architecture conservation than paralogous homologs, even when differences in average sequence divergence are compensated for, for homologs that have diverged beyond a certain threshold. We interpret this as an indication of a stronger selective pressure on orthologs than paralogs to retain the domain architecture required for the proteins to perform a specific function. In general, orthologs as well as the closest paralogous homologs have very similar domain architectures, even at large evolutionary separation.

The most common domain architecture changes observed in both ortholog and paralog pairs involved insertion/deletion of new domains, while domain shuffling and segment duplication/deletion were very infrequent.

Conclusions

On the whole, our results support the hypothesis that function conservation between orthologs demands higher domain architecture conservation than other types of homologs, relative to primary sequence conservation. This supports the notion that orthologs are functionally more similar than other types of homologs at the same evolutionary distance.