About 10,000 of these proteins are present in all cells (Wilhelm et al., 2015) and somewhere between 1500 and 2000 are derived from genes that are essential in the average human cell (Blomen et al., 2015; Wang et al, 2015; Hart et al., 2015) [see How many human protein-coding genes are essential for cell survival?].
Let's assume there are about 10,000 protein-coding genes that are expressed in a typical human cell. Does this mean that there are only 10,000 different proteins in those cells? The answer is "no" but the differences are often subtle. The activities of some proteins, for example, are regulated by covalent modification so a typical cell will contain different versions of the protein: some are modified and some are not (e.g. phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated). These would be genuine versions of different proteins although you probably wouldn't want to make a fuss about it.
In some cases, there are various intermediates produced during protein synthesis. For example, some proteins destined for the mitochondria have an N-terminal tag that's cleaved when the proteins reach their destination. There are two different versions of the protein but, again, this isn't really a big deal. We should really only count the steady-state, terminal, stage of processing and modification.
Similarly, there are proteins that are glycosylated in various ways and cells will always contain intermediates including non-glycosylated versions that have just entered the ER. These don't count as different versions of the protein.
Some genes are alternatively spliced to give proteins that have different internal amino acid sequences. These are genuinely different proteins produced from the same gene.
If you add up all the genuinely different versions of proteins produced from 10,000 protein-coding genes, how many proteins are present in a typical human cell?
Here's a standard answer given in a recent news article in Nature (Savage, 2015)
The human body contains roughly 20,000 genes that are capable of producing proteins. Each gene can produce multiple forms of a protein, and these in turn can be decorated with several post-translational modifications: they can have phosphate or methyl groups attached, or be joined to lipids or carbohydrates, all of which affect their function. “The number of potential molecules you can make from one gene is huge,” says Bernhard Küster, who studies proteomics at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. “It's very hard to estimate, but I wouldn't be surprised to have in one cell type 100,000 or more different proteins.”I suspect that Küster is one of those scientists who think that almost all human protein-coding genes are alternatively spliced to yield several different proteins in each cell. He has to imagine that there are, on average, ten different versions of a protein produced from each gene that's expressed in a typical cell.
That means ten different versions of each of the subunits of pyruvate dehydrogenase and RNA polymerase. It means ten different versions of triose phosphate isomerase and each of the ribosomal proteins. There should be ten different versions of actin and ten different versions of cytochrome c.
This seems very unlikely to me.
(There may be a few genes that have thousands of different variants, although I'm skeptical. In that case there may be 100,000 different proteins in a human cell but surely this is misleading even if it's accurate?)
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