Polyketides, a diverse group of heteropolymers with antibiotic and antitumor properties, are assembled in bacteria by multiprotein chains of modular polyketide synthase (PKS) proteins. Specific protein-protein interactions determine the order of proteins within a multiprotein chain, and thereby the order in which chemically distinct monomers are added to the growing polyketide product. Here we investigate the evolutionary and molecular origins of protein interaction specificity. We focus on the short, conserved N- and C-terminal docking domains that mediate interactions between modular PKS proteins. Our computational analysis, which combines protein sequence data with experimental protein interaction data, reveals a hierarchical interaction specificity code. PKS docking domains are descended from a single ancestral interacting pair, but have split into three phylogenetic classes that are mutually noninteracting. Specificity within one such compatibility class is determined by a few key residues, which can be used to define compatibility subclasses. We identify these residues using a novel, highly sensitive co-evolution detection algorithm called CRoSS (correlated residues of statistical significance). The residue pairs selected by CRoSS are involved in direct physical interactions in a docked-domain NMR structure. A single PKS system can use docking domain pairs from multiple classes, as well as domain pairs from multiple subclasses of any given class. The termini of individual proteins are frequently shuffled, but docking domain pairs straddling two interacting proteins are linked as an evolutionary module. The hierarchical and modular organization of the specificity code is intimately related to the processes by which bacteria generate new PKS pathways.
The origins of specificity in polyketide synthase protein interactions
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