Stability and function: two constraints in the evolution of barstar and other proteins

Gideon Schreiber, Ashley M. Buckle, Alan R. Fersht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Barstar is the intracellular inhibitor of barnase, an extracellular RNAse of Bacillus amylolique faciens. The dissociation constant of the barnase-barstar complex is 10-14M with an association rate constant between barnase and barstar of 3.7 × 108 s-1 M-1. The rapid association arises in part from the clustering of four acidic residues (Asp35, Asp39, Glu76 and Glu80) on the barnase-binding surface of barstar. The negatively charged barnase-binding surface of barstar effectively 'steers' the inhibitor towards the positively charged active site of barnase. Results Mutating any one of the four acidic side chains of barstar to an alanine results in an approximately two-fold decrease in the association rate constant, while the dissociation rate constant increases from five orders of magnitude for Asp39 → Ala, to no significant change for Glu80 → Ala. The stability of barstar is increased by all four mutations, the increase ranging from 0.3 kcal mol-1 for Asp35 → Ala or Asp39 → Ala, to 2.1 kcal mol-1 for Glu80 → Ala. Conclusion The evolutionary pressure on barstar for rapid binding of barnase is so strong that glutamate is preferred over alanine at position 80, even though it does not directly interact with barnase in the complex and significantly destabilizes the inhibitor structure. This, and other examples from the literature, suggest that proteins evolve primarily to optimize their function in vivo, with relatively little evolutionary pressure to increase stability above a certain threshold, thus allowing greater latitude in the evolution of enzyme activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-951
Number of pages7
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • electrostatic interactions
  • molecular evolution
  • molecular recognition
  • protein engineering
  • protein stability

Cite this