Analysis of Structural Features Contributing to Weak Affinities of Ubiquitin/Protein Interactions

Ariel Cohen, Eran Rosenthal, Julia M. Shifman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Ubiquitin is a small protein that enables one of the most common post-translational modifications, where the whole ubiquitin molecule is attached to various target proteins, forming mono- or polyubiquitin conjugations. As a prototypical multispecific protein, ubiquitin interacts non-covalently with a variety of proteins in the cell, including ubiquitin-modifying enzymes and ubiquitin receptors that recognize signals from ubiquitin-conjugated substrates. To enable recognition of multiple targets and to support fast dissociation from the ubiquitin modifying enzymes, ubiquitin/protein interactions are characterized with low affinities, frequently in the higher μM and lower mM range. To determine how structure encodes low binding affinity of ubiquitin/protein complexes, we analyzed structures of more than a hundred such complexes compiled in the Ubiquitin Structural Relational Database. We calculated various structure-based features of ubiquitin/protein binding interfaces and compared them to the same features of general protein–protein interactions (PPIs) with various functions and generally higher affinities. Our analysis shows that ubiquitin/protein binding interfaces on average do not differ in size and shape complementarity from interfaces of higher-affinity PPIs. However, they contain fewer favorable hydrogen bonds and more unfavorable hydrophobic/charge interactions. We further analyzed how binding interfaces change upon affinity maturation of ubiquitin toward its target proteins. We demonstrate that while different features are improved in different experiments, the majority of the evolved complexes exhibit better shape complementarity and hydrogen bond pattern compared to wild-type complexes. Our analysis helps to understand how low-affinity PPIs have evolved and how they could be converted into high-affinity PPIs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3353-3362
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - 10 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Ub binding domains
  • binding affinity
  • protein–protein interactions
  • transient interactions
  • ubiquitin


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