Some protein domains have a highly variable copy number per protein, but they can exist as a single copy. This is in contrast to structural repeats (such as armadillo or leucine-rich repeats) that fold together and, by definition, never appear as a single copy [17
]. Whereas structural repeats are related to DNA or protein binding, occasionally repeated domains can bind either large or small substrates; for example, Ca2+
(bound by C2, cadherin repeats, epidermal growth factor repeats), nucleotides (bound by zinc finger domains, LIM domains, and homeobox domains), or proteins (kazal inhibits serine proteases, ubiquitin domains in polyubiquitin bind target proteins to be degraded, PDZ domains bind polypeptides, nebulin repeats bind actin, immunoglobulins bind antigens, fibronectin 1 repeats bind fibrin and so on). (See the SMART server for further examples and references [9
].) Accordingly, occasionally repeated domains are often involved in signaling or transcription regulation. A large copy number is used as a way of increasing the effectiveness of the binding activity. This could be the case with the NEAT domain, which can be found as one single copy per sequence. In this respect, the NEAT domain appears to perform a binding function rather than a structural or an enzymatic one. Accordingly, the multiple alignment of the instances of the domain (Figure ) indicates the lack of obvious conserved catalytic residues.
The NEAT domain appears to be associated with iron transport in several Gram-positive species (some of them pathogenic). Given its predicted extracellular location and its close association with the components of an iron transport system, one possible function of the NEAT domain is to be a receptor of the siderophore-iron complex. It would initiate a cascade upon detection of the substrate, ending in the expression of the components of the transporter in a system similar to that used in the induction of FecA [18
]. Further evidence in this direction is given by recent experimental results for two of the NEAT-domain proteins from S. aureus,
FrpA and FrpB (denoted here as S_aur4 and S_aur2, respectively), which were identified as cell wall proteins expressed under iron-restricted conditions [19
The multiple duplication of this domain could reflect competition with an inhibitor. It could also be used for increasing bacterial sensitivity to the presence of the iron complex at very low substrate concentrations, in order to trigger the production of the corresponding transporter. The extracellular location of the domain, its association with a key process for bacterial survival, and its specificity to the group of pathogenic bacteria described, all make it a good candidate for developing a strategy against these pathogens.