Although the members of the largest subfamily of the EF-hand proteins, S100 proteins, are evolutionarily young, their functional diversity is extremely broad, partly due to their ability to adapt to various targets. This feature is a hallmark of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), but none of the S100 proteins are recognized as IDPs. S100 are predicted to be enriched in intrinsic disorder, with 62% of them being predicted to be disordered by at least one of the predictors: 31% are recognized as ‘molten globules’ and 15% are shown to be in extended disordered form. The disorder level of predicted disordered S100 regions is conserved compared to that of more structured regions. The central disordered stretch corresponds to the major part of pseudo EF-hand loop, helix II, hinge region, and an initial part of helix III. It contains about half of known sites of enzymatic post-translational modifications (PTMs), confirming that this region can be flexible in vivo. Most of the internal residues missing in tertiary structures belong to the hinge. Both hinge and pseudo EF-hand loop correspond to the local maxima of the PONDR® VSL2 score and are shown to be evolutionary hotspots, leading to gain of new functional properties. The action of PTMs is shown to be destabilizing, in contrast with the effect of metal-binding or S100 dimerization. Formation of the S100 heterodimers relies on the interplay between the structural rigidity of one of the S100 monomers and the flexibility of another monomer. The ordered regions dominate in the S100 homodimerization sites. Target-binding sites generally consist of distant regions, drastically differing in their disorder level. The disordered region comprising most of the hinge and the N-terminal half of helix III is virtually not involved into dimerization, being intended solely for target recognition. The structural flexibility of this region is essential for recognition of diverse target proteins. At least 86% of multiple interactions of S100 proteins with binding partners are attributed to the S100 proteins predicted to be disordered. Overall, the intrinsic disorder is inherent to many S100 proteins and is vital for activity and functional diversity of the family.
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