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Tandem and cryptic amino acid repeats accumulate in disordered regions of proteins

Michelle Simon and John M Hancock*

Author Affiliations

Bioinformatics Group, MRC Harwell, Mammalian Genetics Unit, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Harwell, Oxfordshire, OX11 0RD, UK

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Genome Biology 2009, 10:R59  doi:10.1186/gb-2009-10-6-r59

Published: 1 June 2009



Amino acid repeats (AARs) are common features of protein sequences. They often evolve rapidly and are involved in a number of human diseases. They also show significant associations with particular Gene Ontology (GO) functional categories, particularly transcription, suggesting they play some role in protein function. It has been suggested recently that AARs play a significant role in the evolution of intrinsically unstructured regions (IURs) of proteins. We investigate the relationship between AAR frequency and evolution and their localization within proteins based on a set of 5,815 orthologous proteins from four mammalian (human, chimpanzee, mouse and rat) and a bird (chicken) genome. We consider two classes of AAR (tandem repeats and cryptic repeats: regions of proteins containing overrepresentations of short amino acid repeats).


Mammals show very similar repeat frequencies but chicken shows lower frequencies of many of the cryptic repeats common in mammals. Regions flanking tandem AARs evolve more rapidly than the rest of the protein containing the repeat and this phenomenon is more pronounced for non-conserved repeats than for conserved ones. GO associations are similar to those previously described for the mammals, but chicken cryptic repeats show fewer significant associations. Comparing the overlaps of AARs with IURs and protein domains showed that up to 96% of some AAR types are associated preferentially with IURs. However, no more than 15% of IURs contained an AAR.


Their location within IURs explains many of the evolutionary properties of AARs. Further study is needed on the types of IURs containing AARs.