Evolutionary Covariant Positions within Calmodulin EF-hand Sequences Promote Ligand Binding
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Intracellular calcium signaling is an essential regulatory mechanism through calcium-mediated signal transduction pathways involved in many cell processes, such as exocytosis, motility, apoptosis, excitability, transcription, and muscle contraction. The calcium-binding, ubiquitous, and highly conserved protein calmodulin (CaM) is an important regulator of hundreds of target proteins involved in cellular calcium signaling. CaM comprises of two pairs of EF-hand calcium-binding domains and these structural regions of the protein are highly conserved. Studying the molecular mechanisms underlying the binding of calcium to the EF-hands of CaM is critical in understanding the calcium-mediated cellular processes and how improper binding of calcium can lead to various human pathologies. Previous site-specific binding measurements indicate that each of the four EF-hands of CaM have distinct affinities for calcium. In this study, we have utilized covariance patterns and site-specific mutagenesis to analyze calcium affinity in the two EF-hands of the N-lobe of CaM in order to determine the specific amino acids that are evolutionarily conserved to coordinate calcium. The specific amino acids in CaM that we studied are theorized to coevolve, which means that in their protein coding genes, when a mutation occurs, a compensatory mutation is likely to follow to conserve structure and function of CaM. Since CaM is a highly conserved protein with a known structure, covariance analyses will help in understanding which amino acid contacts are most important for the coordination of calcium in the EF-hands of CaM and to determine which amino acids are under evolutionary constraint. Covariance algorithms, multiple sequence analyses and accompanied protein structure analyses were used to identify the two high scoring amino acid pairs in the N-lobe EF-hands: positions 22 and 24 in EF-hand site 1 and positions 58 and 60 in EF-hand site 2. The amino acids in these locations were mutated and accompanied calcium binding was measured to better understand the effects of the mutations on calcium binding. We have found that both the D24N mutation in site 1 and the D58N mutation in site 2 disrupt binding likely due to the removal of a necessary aspartate in the binding site. However, the combined D58N and N60D mutations restore binding in site 2 by providing the necessary aspartate in the covariant location. The N60D mutation by itself has little impact on calcium binding in site 2. Therefore, it is evident that evolution conserves at least one aspartate in the covariant positions of the binding site and the presence of two aspartates in the covariant positions of the binding site has little affect on calcium binding. We are currently studying the covariant positions in site 1 and future work includes structurally analyzing the covariant positions in the C-lobe of CaM and studying covariance patterns of other calcium-binding proteins with EF-hand binding domains.