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Structure and function of KH domains

Valverde, Roberto, Edwards, Laura, Regan, Lynne
FEBS journal 2008 v.275 no.11 pp. 2712-2726
RNA, binding capacity, humans, hydrophobic bonding, hydrophobicity, point mutation, ribonucleoproteins, single-stranded DNA, transcription (genetics), translation (genetics), van der Waals forces
The hnRNP K homology (KH) domain was first identified in the protein human heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein K (hnRNP K) 14 years ago. Since then, KH domains have been identified as nucleic acid recognition motifs in proteins that perform a wide range of cellular functions. KH domains bind RNA or ssDNA, and are found in proteins associated with transcriptional and translational regulation, along with other cellular processes. Several diseases, e.g. fragile X mental retardation syndrome and paraneoplastic disease, are associated with the loss of function of a particular KH domain. Here we discuss the progress made towards understanding both general and specific features of the molecular recognition of nucleic acids by KH domains. The typical binding surface of KH domains is a cleft that is versatile but that can typically accommodate only four unpaired bases. Van der Waals forces and hydrophobic interactions and, to a lesser extent, electrostatic interactions, contribute to the nucleic acid binding affinity. 'Augmented' KH domains or multiple copies of KH domains within a protein are two strategies that are used to achieve greater affinity and specificity of nucleic acid binding. Isolated KH domains have been seen to crystallize as monomers, dimers and tetramers, but no published data support the formation of noncovalent higher-order oligomers by KH domains in solution. Much attention has been given in the literature to a conserved hydrophobic residue (typically Ile or Leu) that is present in most KH domains. The interest derives from the observation that an individual with this Ile mutated to Asn, in the KH2 domain of fragile X mental retardation protein, exhibits a particularly severe form of the syndrome. The structural effects of this mutation in the fragile X mental retardation protein KH2 domain have recently been reported. We discuss the use of analogous point mutations at this position in other KH domains to dissect both structure and function.