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PLoS Comput Biol. 2013;9(2):e1002913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002913. Epub 2013 Feb 28.

The HAMP signal relay domain adopts multiple conformational states through collective piston and tilt motions.

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Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The HAMP domain is a linker region in prokaryotic sensor proteins and relays input signals to the transmitter domain and vice versa. Functional as a dimer, the structure of HAMP shows a parallel coiled-coil motif comprising four helices. To date, it is unclear how HAMP can relay signals from one domain to another, although several models exist. In this work, we use molecular simulation to test the hypothesis that HAMP adopts different conformations, one of which represents an active, signal-relaying configuration, and another an inactive, resting state. We first performed molecular dynamics simulation on the prototype HAMP domain Af1503 from Archaeoglobus fulgidus. We explored its conformational space by taking the structure of the A291F mutant disabling HAMP activity as a starting point. These simulations revealed additional conformational states that differ in the tilt angles between the helices as well as the relative piston shifts of the helices relative to each other. By enhancing the sampling in a metadynamics set up, we investigated three mechanistic models for HAMP signal transduction. Our results indicate that HAMP can access additional conformational states characterized by piston motion. Furthermore, the piston motion of the N-terminal helix of one monomer is directly correlated with the opposite piston motion of the C-terminal helix of the other monomer. The change in piston motion is accompanied by a change in tilt angle between the monomers, thus revealing that HAMP exhibits a collective motion, i.e. a combination of changes in tilt angles and a piston-like displacement. Our results provide insights into the conformational changes that underlie the signaling mechanism involving HAMP.

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