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Open Access Research article

Charge environments around phosphorylation sites in proteins

James Kitchen1, Rebecca E Saunders12 and Jim Warwicker1*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Michael Smith Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK

2 High Throughput Screening, Cancer Research UK, 44 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PX, UK

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BMC Structural Biology 2008, 8:19  doi:10.1186/1472-6807-8-19

Published: 25 March 2008

Abstract

Background

Phosphorylation is a central feature in many biological processes. Structural analyses have identified the importance of charge-charge interactions, for example mediating phosphorylation-driven allosteric change and protein binding to phosphopeptides. Here, we examine computationally the prevalence of charge stabilisation around phosphorylated sites in the structural database, through comparison with locations that are not phosphorylated in the same structures.

Results

A significant fraction of phosphorylated sites appear to be electrostatically stabilised, largely through interaction with sidechains. Some examples of stabilisation across a subunit interface are evident from calculations with biological units. When considering the immediately surrounding environment, in many cases favourable interactions are only apparent after conformational change that accompanies phosphorylation. A simple calculation of potential interactions at longer-range, applied to non-phosphorylated structures, recovers the separation exhibited by phosphorylated structures. In a study of sites in the Phospho.ELM dataset, for which structural annotation is provided by non-phosphorylated proteins, there is little separation of the known phospho-acceptor sites relative to background, even using the wider interaction radius. However, there are differences in the distributions of patch polarity for acceptor and background sites in the Phospho.ELM dataset.

Conclusion

In this study, an easy to implement procedure is developed that could contribute to the identification of phospho-acceptor sites associated with charge-charge interactions and conformational change. Since the method gives information about potential anchoring interactions subsequent to phosphorylation, it could be combined with simulations that probe conformational change. Our analysis of the Phospho.ELM dataset also shows evidence for mediation of phosphorylation effects through (i) conformational change associated with making a solvent inaccessible phospho-acceptor site accessible, and (ii) modulation of protein-protein interactions.