Small Is Beautiful

Influenza M2 Small Proteins Can No Longer Be Ignored. (2014) Annual Review of Biochemistry 83: 753-777 doi: 10.1146/annurev-biochem-070611-102400
Small proteins, here defined as proteins of 50 amino acids or fewer in the absence of processing, have traditionally been overlooked due to challenges in their annotation and biochemical detection. In the past several years, however, increasing numbers of small proteins have been identified either through the realization that mutations in intergenic regions are actually within unannotated small protein genes or through the discovery that some small, regulatory RNAs encode small proteins. These insights, together with comparative sequence analysis, indicate that tens if not hundreds of small proteins are synthesized in a given organism. This review summarizes what has been learned about the functions of several of these bacterial small proteins, most of which act at the membrane, illustrating the astonishing range of processes in which these small proteins act and suggesting several general conclusions. Important questions for future studies of these overlooked proteins are also discussed.

Viral miniproteins. Annual Review of Microbiology (2014) 68: 21-43. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-091313-103727
Many viruses encode short transmembrane proteins that play vital roles in virus replication or virulence. Because many of these proteins are less than 50 amino acids long and not homologous to cellular proteins, their open reading frames were often overlooked during the initial annotation of viral genomes. Some of these proteins oligomerize in membranes and form ion channels. Other miniproteins bind to cellular transmembrane proteins and modulate their activity, whereas still others have an unknown mechanism of action. Based on the underlying principles of transmembrane miniprotein structure, it is possible to build artificial small transmembrane proteins that modulate a variety of biological processes. These findings suggest that short transmembrane proteins provide a versatile mechanism to regulate a wide range of cellular activities, and we speculate that cells also express many similar proteins that have not yet been discovered.


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2 Responses to Small Is Beautiful

  1. Wouldn’t these be classed as polypeptides rather than proteins, owing to their size?

    • AJ Cann says:

      I don’t think there’s an official definition of polypeptide versus protein. The emphasis here is that if they have important functions, they stand alongside larger proteins and shouldn’t be ignored – size isn’t everything!

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