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J Mol Biol. 2006 Jun 9;359(3):509-25. Epub 2006 Apr 21.

Structural basis for diversity of the EF-hand calcium-binding proteins.

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Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Watertown, MA 02472, USA.


The calcium binding proteins of the EF-hand super-family are involved in the regulation of all aspects of cell function. These proteins exhibit a great diversity of composition, structure, Ca2+-binding and target interaction properties. Here, our current understanding of the Ca2+-binding mechanism is assessed. The structures of the EF-hand motifs containing 11-14 amino acid residues in the Ca2+-binding loop are analyzed within the framework of the recently proposed two-step Ca2+-binding mechanism. A hypothesis is put forward that in all EF-hand proteins the Ca2+-binding and the resultant conformational responses are governed by the central structure connecting the Ca2+-binding loops in the two-EF-hand domain. This structure, named EFbeta-scaffold, defines the position of the bound Ca2+, and coordinates the function of the N-terminal (variable and flexible) with the C-terminal (invariable and rigid) parts of the Ca2+-binding loop. It is proposed that the nature of the first ligand of the Ca2+-binding loop is an important determinant of the conformational change. Additional factors, including the interhelical contacts, the length, structure and flexibility of the linker connecting the EF-hand motifs, and the overall energy balance provide the fine-tuning of the Ca2+-induced conformational change in the EF-hand proteins.

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