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Amino-acid site variability among natural and designed proteins.

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Computational protein design attempts to create protein sequences that fold stably into pre-specified structures. Here we compare alignments of designed proteins to alignments of natural proteins and assess how closely designed sequences recapitulate patterns of sequence variation found in natural protein sequences. We design proteins using RosettaDesign, and we evaluate both fixed-backbone designs and variable-backbone designs with different amounts of backbone flexibility. We find that proteins designed with a fixed backbone tend to underestimate the amount of site variability observed in natural proteins while proteins designed with an intermediate amount of backbone flexibility result in more realistic site variability. Further, the correlation between solvent exposure and site variability in designed proteins is lower than that in natural proteins. This finding suggests that site variability is too uniform across different solvent exposure states (i.e., buried residues are too variable or exposed residues too conserved). When comparing the amino acid frequencies in the designed proteins with those in natural proteins we find that in the designed proteins hydrophobic residues are underrepresented in the core. From these results we conclude that intermediate backbone flexibility during design results in more accurate protein design and that either scoring functions or backbone sampling methods require further improvement to accurately replicate structural constraints on site variability.

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