Structural and energetic differences between insertions and substitutions in staphylococcal nuclease

John Sondek, David Shortle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In a previous study, the small protein staphylococcal nuclease was shown to readily accommodate single alanine and glycine insertions, with average losses in stability comparable to substitutions at the same sites (PROT. 7:29–305, 1990). To more fully explore this unexpected adaptability to changes in residue spacing, 2 double amino acid insertions (alanyl‐glycine, glycyl‐glycine) and 3 additional single amino acid insertions with dissimilar side chains (proline, leucine, and glutamine) were constructed at 10 of the sites previously studied. At 8 of these sites, the type of amino acid side chain on the inserted residue significantly influenced the stability of the mutant protein. However, at 9 of the 10 sites, the double insertions were found to be no more destabilizing than the single alanine or glycine insertions. In contrast, double substitution mutations of staphylococcal nuclease, which replace two adjacent residues with alanine, do not show this striking degree of non‐additivity. A comparison of the effects of single glutamine and single glycine insertions with alanyl‐glycine insertions indicates that insertion of alanine into the peptide backbone is, on average, less destabilizing than appending the equivalent atoms onto the side chain of a glycine insertion. To explain their very different energetic effects, we propose that, unlike most substitutions, the inserted residue(s) must induce lateral displacements of the polypeptide chain, forcing the folded conformation away from that of wild type. The resulting obligatory shifts in the positioning of residues flanking the insertion generate a large number of degrees of freedom around which the mutant structure can relax. From the many alternative packing and bonding arrangements thus made available to the polypeptide chain, the energetically most favorable is selected. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-140
Number of pages9
JournalProteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1992


  • circular dichroism spectroscopy
  • conformational changes
  • guanidine hydrochloride denaturation
  • insertion mutations
  • protein stability
  • substitution mutations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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