Not too loose, not too tight--just right. Biphasic control of the Tsr HAMP domain.
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HAMP domains communicate between input and output signalling modules in a wide variety of bacterial sensor proteins. In the Tsr chemoreceptor, they convert a signal initiated by binding of serine to the periplasmic domain of the protein into regulation of receptor control of the CheA kinase, and ultimately of the direction of flagellar rotation. In this issue, Zhou etal. report an extensive mutational analysis of the Tsr HAMP domain that shows that it can assume a number of different signalling states, which presumably correspond to a variety of different conformations. The two conformational extremes of a tightly packed and a loosely packed HAMP four-helix bundle support only low levels of CheA activity. Thus, Tsr HAMP does not function as a simple on-off, two-state device but rather as a dynamic structure with biphasic control. The normal physiological operating range of Tsr is proposed to be at intermediate degrees of packing of the HAMP four-helix bundle, but HAMP domains in other proteins could occupy different portions of the conformational spectrum.
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