Structural Diversity of Domain Superfamilies in the CATH Database
The CATH database of domain structures has been used to explore the structural variation of homologous domains in 294 well populated domain structure superfamilies, each containing at least three sequence diverse relatives. Our analyses confirm some previously detected trends relating sequence divergence to structural variation but for a much larger dataset and in some superfamilies the new data reveal exceptional structural variation. Use of a new algorithm (2DSEC) to analyse variability in secondary structure compositions across a superfamily sheds new light on how structures evolve. 2DSEC detects inserted secondary structures that embellish the core of conserved secondary structures found throughout the superfamily. Analysis showed that for 56% of highly populated superfamilies (>9 sequence diverse relatives), there are twofold or more increases in the numbers of secondary structures in some relatives. In some families fivefold increases occur, sometimes modifying the fold of the domain. Manual inspection of secondary structure insertions or embellishments in 48 particularly variable superfamilies revealed that although these insertions were usually discontiguous in the sequence they were often co-located in 3D resulting in a larger structural motif that often modified the geometry of the active site or the surface conformation promoting diverse domain partnerships and protein interactions. These observations, supported by automatic analysis of all well populated CATH families, suggest that accretion of small secondary structure insertions may provide a simple mechanism for evolving new functions in diverse relatives. Some layered domain architectures (e.g. mainly-beta and alpha-beta sandwiches) that recur highly in the genomes more frequently exploit these types of embellishments to modify function. In these architectures, aggregation occurs most often at the edges, top or bottom of the Î²-sheets. Information on structural variability across domain superfamilies has been made available through the CATH Dictionary of Homologous Structures (DHS).