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Open Access Research article

A comparative study of ribosomal proteins: linkage between amino acid distribution and ribosomal assembly

Brittany Burton Lott1, Yongmei Wang12* and Takuya Nakazato23*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemistry, The University of Memphis, 38152 Memphis TN, USA

2 Department of Bioinformatics, The University of Memphis, 38152 Memphis TN, USA

3 Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Memphis, 38152 Memphis TN, USA

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BMC Biophysics 2013, 6:13  doi:10.1186/2046-1682-6-13

Published: 23 October 2013

Abstract

Background

Assembly of the ribosome from its protein and RNA constituents must occur quickly and efficiently in order to synthesize the proteins necessary for all cellular activity. Since the early 1960’s, certain characteristics of possible assembly pathways have been elucidated, yet the mechanisms that govern the precise recognition events remain unclear.

We utilize a comparative analysis to investigate the amino acid composition of ribosomal proteins (r-proteins) with respect to their role in the assembly process. We compared small subunit (30S) r-protein sequences to those of other housekeeping proteins from 560 bacterial species and searched for correlations between r-protein amino acid content and factors such as assembly binding order, environmental growth temperature, protein size, and contact with ribosomal RNA (rRNA) in the 30S complex.

Results

We find r-proteins have a significantly high percent of positive residues, which are highly represented at rRNA contact sites. An inverse correlation between the percent of positive residues and r-protein size was identified and is mainly due to the content of Lysine residues, rather than Arginine. Nearly all r-proteins carry a net positive charge, but no statistical correlation between the net charge and the binding order was detected. Thermophilic (high-temperature) r-proteins contain increased Arginine, Isoleucine, and Tyrosine, and decreased Serine and Threonine compared to mesophilic (lower-temperature), reflecting a known distinction between thermophiles and mesophiles, possibly to account for protein thermostability. However, this difference in amino acid content does not extend to rRNA contact sites, as the proportions of thermophilic and mesophilic contact residues are not significantly different.

Conclusions

Given the significantly higher level of positively charged residues in r-proteins and at contact sites, we conclude that ribosome assembly relies heavily on an electrostatic component of interaction. However, the binding order of r-proteins in assembly does not appear to depend on these electrostatics interactions. Additionally, because thermophiles and mesophiles exhibit significantly different amino acid compositions in their sequences but not in the identities of contact sites, we conclude that this electrostatic component of interaction is insensitive to temperature and is not the determining factor differentiating the temperature sensitivity of ribosome assembly.

Keywords:
Ribosomal assembly; Amino acid compositions; Electrostatic interactions; Adaptation; Protein/RNA contacts; Thermostability; r-proteins; 30S subunit