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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Spectrum of disease-causing mutations in protein secondary structures

Sofia Khan1 and Mauno Vihinen12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Medical Technology, FI-33014 University of Tampere, Finland

2 Research Unit, Tampere University Hospital, FI-33520 Tampere, Finland

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BMC Structural Biology 2007, 7:56  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-7-56

Published: 29 August 2007



Most genetic disorders are linked to missense mutations as even minor changes in the size or properties of an amino acid can alter or prevent the function of the protein. Further, the effect of a mutation is also dependent on the sequence and structure context of the alteration.


We investigated the spectrum of disease-causing missense mutations in secondary structure elements in proteins with numerous known mutations and for which an experimentally defined three-dimensional structure is available. We obtained a comprehensive map of the differences in mutation frequencies, location and contact energies, and the changes in residue volume and charge – both in the mutated (original) amino acids and in the mutant amino acids in the different secondary structure types. We collected information for 44 different proteins involved in a large number of diseases. The studied proteins contained a total of 2413 mutations of which 1935 (80%) appeared in secondary structures. Differences in mutation patterns between secondary structures and whole proteins were generally not statistically significant whereas within the secondary structural elements numerous highly significant features were observed.


Numerous trends in mutated and mutant amino acids are apparent. Among the original residues, arginine clearly has the highest relative mutability. The overall relative mutability among mutant residues is highest for cysteine and tryptophan. The mutability values are higher for mutated residues than for mutant residues. Arginine and glycine are among the most mutated residues in all secondary structures whereas the other amino acids have large variations in mutability between structure types. Statistical analysis was used to reveal trends in different secondary structural elements, residue types as well as for the charge and volume changes.