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PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e30455. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030455. Epub 2012 Jan 19.

Analysis of the key elements of FFAT-like motifs identifies new proteins that potentially bind VAP on the ER, including two AKAPs and FAPP2.

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Department of Cell Biology, University College London Institute of Ophthalmology, London, United Kingdom.



Two phenylalanines (FF) in an acidic tract (FFAT)-motifs were originally described as having seven elements: an acidic flanking region followed by 6 residues (EFFDA-E). Such motifs are found in several lipid transfer protein (LTP) families, and they interact with a protein on the cytosolic face of the ER called vesicle-associated membrane protein-associated protein (VAP). Mutation of which causes ER stress and motor neuron disease, making it important to determine which proteins bind VAP. Among other proteins that bind VAP, some contain FFAT-like motifs that are missing one or more of the seven elements. Defining how much variation is tolerated in FFAT-like motifs is a preliminary step prior to the identification of the full range of VAP interactors.


We used a quantifiable in vivo system that measured ER targeting in a reporter yeast strain that over-expressed VAP to study the effect of substituting different elements of FFAT-like motifs in turn. By defining FFAT-like motifs more widely than before, we found them in novel proteins the functions of which had not previously been directly linked to the ER, including: two PKA anchoring proteins, AKAP220 and AKAP110; a family of plant LTPs; and the glycolipid LTP phosphatidylinositol-four-phosphate adaptor-protein-2 (FAPP-2).


All of the seven essential elements of a FFAT motif tolerate variation, and weak targeting to the ER via VAP is still detected if two elements are substituted. In addition to the strong FFAT motifs already known, there are additional proteins with weaker FFAT-like motifs, which might be functionally important VAP interactors.

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