Regulation of cell division by intrinsically unstructured proteins: Intrinsic flexibility, modularity, and signaling conduits

Charles Galea, Yuefeng Wang, Sivashankar G Sivakolundu, Richard W Kriwacki

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191 Citations (Scopus)


It is now widely recognized that intrinsically unstructured (or disordered) proteins (IUPs or IDPs) are found in organisms from all kingdoms of life. In eukaryotes, IUPs are highly abundant and perform a wide range of biological functions, including regulation and signaling. Despite an increased level of interest in understanding the structural biology of IUPs and IDPs, questions regarding the mechanisms through which disordered proteins perform their biological function(s) remain. In other words, what are the relationships between disorder and function for IUPs? There are several excellent reviews that discuss the structural properties of IUPs and IDPs since 2005 [Receveur-Brechot, V., et al. (2006) Proteins 62, 24-45; Mittag, T., and Forman-Kay, J. D. (2007) Curr. Opin. Struct. Biol. 17, 3-14; Dyson, H. J., and Wright, P. E. (2005) Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 6, 197-208]. Here, we briefly review general concepts pertaining to IUPs and then discuss our structural, biophysical, and biochemical studies of two IUPs, p21 and p27, which regulate the mammalian cell division cycle by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks). Some segments of these two proteins are partially folded in isolation, and they fold further upon binding their biological targets. Interestingly, some portions of p27 remain flexible after binding to and inhibiting the Cdk2-cyclin A complex. This residual flexibility allows otherwise buried tyrosine residues within p27 to be phosphorylated by non-receptor tyrosine kinases (NRTKs). Tyrosine phosphorylation relieves kinase inhibition, triggering Cdk2-mediated phosphorylation of a threonine residue within the flexible C-terminus of p27. This, in turn, marks p27 for ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation, unleashing full Cdk2 activity which drives cell cycle progression. p27, thus, constitutes a conduit for transmission of proliferative signals via post-translational modifications. The term conduit is used here to connote a means of transmission of molecular signals which, in the case of p27, correspond to tyrosine and threonine phosphorylation, ubiquitination, and, ultimately, proteolytic degradation. Transmission of these multiple signals is enabled by the inherent flexibility of p27 which persists even after tight binding to the Cdk2-cyclin A complex. Importantly, activation of the p27 signaling conduit by oncogenic NRTKs contributes to tumorigenesis in some human cancers, including chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) [Grimmler, M., et al. (2007) Cell 128, 269-280] and breast cancer [Chu, I., et al. (2007) Cell 128, 281-294]. Other IUPs may participate in conceptually similar molecular signaling conduits, and dysregulation of these putative conduits may contribute to other human diseases. Detailed study of these IUPs, both alone and within functional complexes, is required to test these hypotheses and to more fully understand the relationships between protein disorder and biological function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7598 - 7609
Number of pages12
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

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