PX domains have been recently found to act as phosphoinositide binding modules. In the yeast SNARE protein Vam7p, the PX domain binds to PtdIns(3)P and is required for vacuolar targeting. To gain insight into how PX domains function, the solution structure of the ligand-free Vam7p PX domain has been determined by NMR spectroscopy. The Vam7p PX domain has the same overall α/β fold observed in the structures of the ligand-free p47phox PX domain and the PtdIns(3)P-bound p40phox PX domain, exhibiting several similarities and differences with these two PX domains. Most striking is the similarity between the Vam7p and p40phox PX domains in a subset of secondary structure elements despite the low level of sequence identity between them, suggesting that these elements form a conserved core in the PX domain fold. These similarities and the observation that a putative PtdIns(3)P binding site is already formed in the apo Vam7p PX domains suggest that ligand binding does not induce major conformational changes, contrary to what was previously thought. The proposed ligand binding site of the Vam7p PX domain includes basic side chains from the conserved structural core that also participate in PtdIns(3)P binding to the p40phox PX domain, and basic side chains from a variable loop that probably inserts into the membrane. These results indicate that PX domains contain a combination of conserved and variable features that allow them to have a common function and at the same time exhibit distinct specificities, mechanisms of regulation, or modes of interaction with effector molecules.
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