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Deep mutational analysis reveals functional trade-offs in the sequences of EGFR autophosphorylation sites

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Upon activation, the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) phosphorylates tyrosine residues in its cytoplasmic tail, which triggers the binding of Src homology 2 (SH2) and phosphotyrosine-binding (PTB) domains and initiates downstream signaling. The sequences flanking the tyrosine residues (referred to as "phosphosites") must be compatible with phosphorylation by the EGFR kinase domain and the recruitment of adapter proteins, while minimizing phosphorylation that would reduce the fidelity of signal transmission. To understand how phosphosite sequences encode these functions within a small set of residues, we carried out high-throughput mutational analysis of three phosphosite sequences in the EGFR tail. We used bacterial surface display of peptides coupled with deep sequencing to monitor phosphorylation efficiency and the binding of the SH2 and PTB domains of the adapter proteins Grb2 and Shc1, respectively. We found that the sequences of phosphosites in the EGFR tail are restricted to a subset of the range of sequences that can be phosphorylated efficiently by EGFR. Although efficient phosphorylation by EGFR can occur with either acidic or large hydrophobic residues at the -1 position with respect to the tyrosine, hydrophobic residues are generally excluded from this position in tail sequences. The mutational data suggest that this restriction results in weaker binding to adapter proteins but also disfavors phosphorylation by the cytoplasmic tyrosine kinases c-Src and c-Abl. Our results show how EGFR-family phosphosites achieve a trade-off between minimizing off-pathway phosphorylation and maintaining the ability to recruit the diverse complement of effectors required for downstream pathway activation.

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