General Science & Technology
Most homodimeric proteins have symmetric structure. Although symmetry is known to confer structural and functional advantage, asymmetric organization is also observed. Using a non-redundant dataset of 223 high-resolution crystal structures of biologically relevant homodimers, we address questions on the prevalence and significance of asymmetry. We used two measures to quantify global and interface asymmetry, and assess the correlation of several molecular and structural parameters with asymmetry. We have identified rare cases (11/223) of biologically relevant homodimers with pronounced global asymmetry. Asymmetry serves as a means to bring about 2:1 binding between the homodimer and another molecule; it also enables cellular signalling arising from asymmetric macromolecular ligands such as DNA. Analysis of these cases reveals two possible mechanisms by which possible infinite array formation is prevented. In case of homodimers associating via non-topologically equivalent surfaces in their tertiary structures, ligand-dependent mechanisms are used. For stable dimers binding via large surfaces, ligand-dependent structural change regulates polymerisation/ depolymerisation; for unstable dimers binding via smaller surfaces that are not evolutionarily well conserved, dimerisation occurs only in the presence of the ligand. In case of homodimers associating via interaction surfaces with parts of the surfaces topologically equivalent in the tertiary structures, steric hindrance serves as the preventive mechanism of infinite array. We also find that homodimers exhibiting grossly symmetric organization rarely exhibit either perfect local symmetry or high local asymmetry. Binding of small ligands at the interface does not cause any significant variation in interface asymmetry. However, identification of biologically relevant interface asymmetry in grossly symmetric homodimers is confounded by the presence of similar small magnitude changes caused due to artefacts of crystallisation. Our study provides new insights regarding accommodation of asymmetry in homodimers.