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1.  Small but versatile: the extraordinary functional and structural diversity of the β-grasp fold 
Biology Direct  2007;2:18.
The β-grasp fold (β-GF), prototyped by ubiquitin (UB), has been recruited for a strikingly diverse range of biochemical functions. These functions include providing a scaffold for different enzymatic active sites (e.g. NUDIX phosphohydrolases) and iron-sulfur clusters, RNA-soluble-ligand and co-factor-binding, sulfur transfer, adaptor functions in signaling, assembly of macromolecular complexes and post-translational protein modification. To understand the basis for the functional versatility of this small fold we undertook a comprehensive sequence-structure analysis of the fold and developed a natural classification for its members.
As a result we were able to define the core distinguishing features of the fold and numerous elaborations, including several previously unrecognized variants. Systematic analysis of all known interactions of the fold showed that its manifold functional abilities arise primarily from the prominent β-sheet, which provides an exposed surface for diverse interactions or additionally, by forming open barrel-like structures. We show that in the β-GF both enzymatic activities and the binding of diverse co-factors (e.g. molybdopterin) have independently evolved on at least three occasions each, and iron-sulfur-cluster-binding on at least two independent occasions. Our analysis identified multiple previously unknown large monophyletic assemblages within the β-GF, including one which unifies versions found in the fasciclin-1 superfamily, the ribosomal protein L25, the phosphoribosyl AMP cyclohydrolase (HisI) and glutamine synthetase. We also uncovered several new groups of β-GF domains including a domain found in bacterial flagellar and fimbrial assembly components, and 5 new UB-like domains in the eukaryotes.
Evolutionary reconstruction indicates that the β-GF had differentiated into at least 7 distinct lineages by the time of the last universal common ancestor of all extant organisms, encompassing much of the structural diversity observed in extant versions of the fold. The earliest β-GF members were probably involved in RNA metabolism and subsequently radiated into various functional niches. Most of the structural diversification occurred in the prokaryotes, whereas the eukaryotic phase was mainly marked by a specific expansion of the ubiquitin-like β-GF members. The eukaryotic UB superfamily diversified into at least 67 distinct families, of which at least 19–20 families were already present in the eukaryotic common ancestor, including several protein and one lipid conjugated forms. Another key aspect of the eukaryotic phase of evolution of the β-GF was the dramatic increase in domain architectural complexity of proteins related to the expansion of UB-like domains in numerous adaptor roles.
This article was reviewed by Igor Zhulin, Arcady Mushegian and Frank Eisenhaber.
PMCID: PMC1949818  PMID: 17605815
2.  A novel superfamily containing the β-grasp fold involved in binding diverse soluble ligands 
Biology Direct  2007;2:4.
Domains containing the β-grasp fold are utilized in a great diversity of physiological functions but their role, if any, in soluble or small molecule ligand recognition is poorly studied.
Using sensitive sequence and structure similarity searches we identify a novel superfamily containing the β-grasp fold. They are found in a diverse set of proteins that include the animal vitamin B12 uptake proteins transcobalamin and intrinsic factor, the bacterial polysaccharide export proteins, the competence DNA receptor ComEA, the cob(I)alamin generating enzyme PduS and the Nqo1 subunit of the respiratory electron transport chain. We present evidence that members of this superfamily are likely to bind a range of soluble ligands, including B12. There are two major clades within this superfamily, namely the transcobalamin-like clade and the Nqo1-like clade. The former clade is typified by an insert of a β-hairpin after the helix of the β-grasp fold, whereas the latter clade is characterized by an insert between strands 4 and 5 of the core fold.
Members of both clades within this superfamily are predicted to interact with ligands in a similar spatial location, with their specific inserts playing a role in the process. Both clades are widely represented in bacteria suggesting that this superfamily was derived early in bacterial evolution. The animal lineage appears to have acquired the transcobalamin-like proteins from low GC Gram-positive bacteria, and this might be correlated with the emergence of the ability to utilize B12 produced by gut bacteria.
This article was reviewed by Andrei Osterman, Igor Zhulin, and Arcady Mushegian.
PMCID: PMC1796856  PMID: 17250770
3.  The signaling helix: a common functional theme in diverse signaling proteins 
Biology Direct  2006;1:25.
The mechanism by which the signals are transmitted between receptor and effector domains in multi-domain signaling proteins is poorly understood.
Using sensitive sequence analysis methods we identify a conserved helical segment of around 40 residues in a wide range of signaling proteins, including numerous sensor histidine kinases such as Sln1p, and receptor guanylyl cyclases such as the atrial natriuretic peptide receptor and nitric oxide receptors. We term this helical segment the signaling (S)-helix and present evidence that it forms a novel parallel coiled-coil element, distinct from previously known helical segments in signaling proteins, such as the Dimerization-Histidine phosphotransfer module of histidine kinases, the intra-cellular domains of the chemotaxis receptors, inter-GAF domain helical linkers and the α-helical HAMP module. Analysis of domain architectures allowed us to reconstruct the domain-neighborhood graph for the S-helix, which showed that the S-helix almost always occurs between two signaling domains. Several striking patterns in the domain neighborhood of the S-helix also became evident from the graph. It most often separates diverse N-terminal sensory domains from various C-terminal catalytic signaling domains such as histidine kinases, cNMP cyclase, PP2C phosphatases, NtrC-like AAA+ ATPases and diguanylate cyclases. It might also occur between two sensory domains such as PAS domains and occasionally between a DNA-binding HTH domain and a sensory domain. The sequence conservation pattern of the S-helix revealed the presence of a unique constellation of polar residues in the dimer-interface positions within the central heptad of the coiled-coil formed by the S-helix.
Combining these observations with previously reported mutagenesis studies on different S-helix-containing proteins we suggest that it functions as a switch that prevents constitutive activation of linked downstream signaling domains. However, upon occurrence of specific conformational changes due to binding of ligand or other sensory inputs in a linked upstream domain it transmits the signal to the downstream domain. Thus, the S-helix represents one of the most prevalent functional themes involved in the flow of signals between modules in diverse prokaryote-type multi-domain signaling proteins.
This article was reviewed by Frank Eisenhaber, Arcady Mushegian and Sandor Pongor.
PMCID: PMC1592074  PMID: 16953892

Results 1-3 (3)