Limits to Compensatory Mutations: Insights from Temperature-Sensitive Alleles

Katarzyna Tomala*, Piotr Zrebiec, Daniel L. Hartl, Tal Pupko (Editor)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous experiments with temperature-sensitive mutants of the yeast enzyme orotidine 5′-phosphate decarboxylase (encoded in gene URA3) yielded the unexpected result that reversion occurs only through exact reversal of the original mutation (Jakubowska A, Korona R. 2009. Lack of evolutionary conservation at positions important for thermal stability in the yeast ODCase protein. Mol Biol Evol. 26(7):1431-1434.). We recreated a set of these mutations in which the codon had two nucleotide substitutions, making exact reversion much less likely. We screened these double mutants for reversion and obtained a number of compensatory mutations occurring at alternative sites in the molecule. None of these compensatory mutations fully restored protein performance. The mechanism of partial compensation is consistent with a model in which protein stabilization is additive, as the same secondary mutations can compensate different primary alternations. The distance between primary and compensatory residues precludes direct interaction between the sites. Instead, most of the compensatory mutants were clustered in proximity to the catalytic center. All of the second-site compensatory substitutions occurred at relatively conserved sites, and the amino acid replacements were to residues found at these sites in a multispecies alignment of the protein. Based on the estimated distribution of changes in Gibbs free energy among a large number of amino acid replacements, we estimate that, for most proteins, the probability that a second-site mutation would have a sufficiently large stabilizing effect to offset a temperature-sensitive mutation in the order of 10-4 or less. Hence compensation is likely to take place only for slightly destabilizing mutations because highly stabilizing mutations are exceeding rare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1874-1883
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Ura3
  • additivity
  • compensatory mutations
  • epistasis
  • protein stability


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