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J Mol Biol. 2001 May 4;308(3):541-53.

Conformational spread in a ring of proteins: a stochastic approach to allostery.

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Cavendish Laboratory, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, UK.


We recently suggested that the sensitivity and range of a cluster of membrane receptors in bacteria would be enhanced by cooperative interactions between neighbouring proteins. Here, we examine the consequences of this "conformational spread" mechanism for an idealised one-dimensional system comprising a closed ring of identical allosteric protomers (protein molecules, or a group of protein domains operating as a unit). We show analytically and by means of Monte Carlo simulations that a ring of allosteric protomers can exhibit a switch-like response to changes in ligand concentration. We derive expressions for the sensitivity and cooperativity of switching and show that the maximum sensitivity is proportional to the number of protomers in the ring. A ring of this kind can reproduce the sensitivity and kinetics of the switch complex of a bacterial flagellar motor, for example, which is based on a ring of 34 FliM proteins. We also compare smaller rings of conformationally coupled protomers to classical allosteric proteins such as haemoglobin and show that the canonical MWC and KNF models arise naturally as limiting cases. Conformational spread appears to be a natural extension of the familiar mechanism of allostery: a physically realistic mechanism that should apply widely to many structures built from protein molecules.

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