Conserved tertiary couplings stabilize elements in the PDZ fold, leading to characteristic patterns of domain conformational flexibility

Bosco Ho, David Agard

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Single-domain allostery has been postulated to occur through intramolecular pathways of signaling within a protein structure. We had previously investigated these pathways by introducing a local thermal perturbation and analyzed the anisotropic propagation of structural changes throughout the protein. Here, we develop an improved approach, the Rotamerically Induced Perturbation (RIP), that identifies strong couplings between residues by analyzing the pathways of heat-flow resulting from thermal excitation of rotameric rotations at individual residues. To explore the nature of these couplings, we calculate the complete coupling maps of 5 different PDZ domains. Although the PDZ domain is a well conserved structural fold that serves as a scaffold in many protein-protein complexes, different PDZ domains display unique patterns of conformational flexibility in response to ligand binding: some show a significant shift in a set of alpha-helices, while others do not. Analysis of the coupling maps suggests a simple relationship between the computed couplings and observed conformational flexibility. In domains where the alpha-helices are rigid, we find couplings of the alpha-helices to the body of the protein, whereas in domains having ligand-responsive alpha-helices, no couplings are found. This leads to a model where the alpha-helices are intrinsically dynamic but can be damped if sidechains interact at key tertiary contacts. These tertiary contacts correlate to high covariation contacts as identified by the statistical coupling analysis method. As these dynamic modules are exploited by various allosteric mechanisms, these tertiary contacts have been conserved by evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398 - 411
Number of pages14
JournalProtein Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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