Periodic Reporting for period 4 - PhosFunc (Dissecting the functional importance of eukaryotic protein phosphorylation)
Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-09-30
Divergence of expression patterns is often asserted as the main driving force in generating phenotypic diversity. However, several studies have challenged this view. Recent advances in mass spectrometry (MS) have lead to an increase in throughput with thousands of phosphosites discovered for some model organisms allowing for the first time to study the evolution of PTMs. The first evolutionary studies have shown that there is only weak evolutionary constraint imposed by the modifications which might be explained by the existence of a significant number of sites that serve no biological role in present day species but are the by-product of the high evolutionary rate of creation and destruction of phosphorylation sites.
The increased throughput in identification of protein phosphorylation sites along with the lack of sequence conservation at phosphosites and potential existence of non-functional sites has resulted in a tremendous challenge of identifying functional PTM sites among the many thousands of phosphosites identified to date. For example, there are over 200,000 phosphosites that have been experimentally determined in human proteins of which only 3% have a curated described function. Knowing the extent of non-functional phosphorylation as well as developing methods to rank sites according to functional importance is a major bottleneck in current studies of cell signaling. Tackling these issues will have an impact on many areas of fundamental cell biology (e.g. cell-cycle, DNA damage, response to stress, etc). Protein kinases and phosphorylation signaling networks are very often mutated in cancer and hijacked during infection. Understanding the function of protein phosphorylation will facilitate our understanding of how cancer mutations or some pathogens change these regulatory networks in disease.
In order to study the contribution to fitness of protein phosphorylation we developed in this project a combined computational and genetic approach to study phosphosite function in the model organism S. cerevisiae. For this purpose we first devised an approach to classify phosphorylation sites according to its evolutionary age using phosphorylation data from 18 different fungal species. This work conclusively showed that phosphorylation sites that exist in present day species have arisen recently in evolution. We then developed a genetic approach to study the functional importance of protein phosphorylation by measuring the impact of mutating one of nearly 500 phosphorylation sites in S. cerevisiae. From this work we could say that on the order of 60% of phosphosites don't show phenotypes when mutated. In addition, by comparing the growth profile of the phosphorylation mutants with those elicited by gene knock-outs we could predict the functional role of the mutated phosphorylation sites. Based on these genetic measurements we could also see that conservation alone was not a good predictor for which phosphosites seem to be more important. In order to be able to take into account multiple characteristics of protein phosphorylation sites with build a computational predictor of functional relevance that integrates multiple features, such as the degree of conservation, regulation, among others. This predictor is capable of scoring phosphorylation according to their relative importance of the cell which can now facilitate the study of regulation of almost any cellular process.
Altogether, this work allows to understand which phosphorylation sites are most important for the cell and therefore more likely to have important regulatory functions. This has wide reaching implications for the study of cell biology and the study of misregulation during disease.
These different projects have allowed us to prioritise phosphorylation sites that we think are highly relevant for the cell. The functional relevance and structural implications of phosphorylation are areas we will continue to develop further in the future.