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ACS Chem Biol. 2008 Nov 21;3(11):723-32. doi: 10.1021/cb800177f.

A Ca2+-sensing molecular switch based on alternate frame protein folding.

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Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, 750 East Adams Street, Syracuse, New York 13210, USA.


Existing strategies for creating biosensors mainly rely on large conformational changes to transduce a binding event to an output signal. Most molecules, however, do not exhibit large-scale structural changes upon substrate binding. Here, we present a general approach (alternate frame folding, or AFF) for engineering allosteric control into ligand binding proteins. AFF can in principle be applied to any protein to establish a binding-induced conformational change, even if none exists in the natural molecule. The AFF design duplicates a portion of the amino acid sequence, creating an additional "frame" of folding. One frame corresponds to the wild-type sequence, and folding produces the normal structure. Folding in the second frame yields a circularly permuted protein. Because the two native structures compete for a shared sequence, they fold in a mutually exclusive fashion. Binding energy is used to drive the conformational change from one fold to the other. We demonstrate the approach by converting the protein calbindin D(9k) into a molecular switch that senses Ca2+. The structures of Ca2+-free and Ca2+-bound calbindin are nearly identical. Nevertheless, the AFF mechanism engineers a robust conformational change that we detect using two covalently attached fluorescent groups. Biological fluorophores can also be employed to create a genetically encoded sensor. AFF should be broadly applicable to create sensors for a variety of small molecules.

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