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Proteins. 1999 Nov 15;37(3):499-507.

Diversity of conformational states and changes within the EF-hand protein superfamily.

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Division of Molecular and Structural Biology, Ontario Cancer Institute, Toronto, Canada.


The EF-hand motif, which assumes a helix-loop-helix structure normally responsible for Ca2+ binding, is found in a large number of functionally diverse Ca2+ binding proteins collectively known as the EF-hand protein superfamily. In many superfamily members, Ca2+ binding induces a conformational change in the EF-hand motif, leading to the activation or inactivation of target proteins. In calmodulin and troponin C, this is described as a change from the closed conformational state in the absence of Ca2+ to the open conformational state in its presence. It is now clear from structures of other EF-hand proteins that this "closed-to-open" conformational transition is not the sole model for EF-hand protein structural response to Ca2+. More complex modes of conformational change are observed in EF-hand proteins that interact with a covalently attached acyl group (e.g., recoverin) and in those that dimerize (e.g., S100B, calpain). In fact, EF-hand proteins display a multitude of unique conformational states, together constituting a conformational continuum. Using a quantitative 3D approach termed vector geometry mapping (VGM), we discuss this tertiary structural diversity of EF-hand proteins and its correlation with target recognition.

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