Overlapping open reading frames (ORFs) in viral genomes undergo co-evolution; however, how individual amino acids coded by overlapping ORFs are structurally, functionally, and co-evolutionarily constrained remains difficult to address by conventional homologous sequence alignment approaches. We report here a new experimental and computational evolution-based methodology to address this question and report its preliminary application to elucidating a mode of co-evolution of the frame-shifted overlapping ORFs in the adeno-associated virus (AAV) serotype 2 viral genome. These ORFs encode both capsid VP protein and non-structural assembly-activating protein (AAP). To show proof of principle of the new method, we focused on the evolutionarily conserved QVKEVTQ and KSKRSRR motifs, a pair of overlapping heptapeptides in VP and AAP, respectively. In the new method, we first identified a large number of capsid-forming VP3 mutants and functionally competent AAP mutants of these motifs from mutant libraries by experimental directed evolution under no co-evolutionary constraints. We used Illumina sequencing to obtain a large dataset and then statistically assessed the viability of VP and AAP heptapeptide mutants. The obtained heptapeptide information was then integrated into an evolutionary algorithm, with which VP and AAP were co-evolved from random or native nucleotide sequences in silico. As a result, we demonstrate that these two heptapeptide motifs could exhibit high degeneracy if coded by separate nucleotide sequences, and elucidate how overlap-evoked co-evolutionary constraints play a role in making the VP and AAP heptapeptide sequences into the present shape. Specifically, we demonstrate that two valine (V) residues and β-strand propensity in QVKEVTQ are structurally important, the strongly negative and hydrophilic nature of KSKRSRR is functionally important, and overlap-evoked co-evolution imposes strong constraints on serine (S) residues in KSKRSRR, despite high degeneracy of the motifs in the absence of co-evolutionary constraints.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences