- Research article
- Open Access
New insights into the molecular mechanism of the Rab GTPase Sec4p activation
© Rinaldi et al. 2015
- Received: 6 May 2015
- Accepted: 8 July 2015
- Published: 12 August 2015
Sec4p is a small monomeric Ras-related GTP-binding protein (23 kDa) that regulates polarized exocytosis in S. cerevisiae. In this study we examine the structural effects of a conserved serine residue in the P-loop corresponding to G12 in Ras.
We show that the Sec4p residue serine 29 forms a hydrogen bond with the nucleotide. Mutations of this residue have a different impact than equivalent mutations in Ras and can form stable associations with the exchange factor allowing us to elucidate the structure of a complex of Sec4p bound to the exchange factor Sec2p representing an early stage of the exchange reaction.
Our structural investigation of the Sec4p-Sec2p complex reveals the role of the Sec2p coiled-coil domain in facilitating the fast kinetics of the exchange reaction. For Ras-family GTPases, single point mutations that impact the signaling state of the molecule have been well described however less structural information is available for equivalent mutations in the case of Rab proteins. Understanding the structural properties of mutants such as the one described here, provides useful insights into unique aspects of Rab GTPase function.
- Dissociation Rate
- Nucleotide Exchange
- Coiled Coil
- Coiled Coil Domain
- Nucleotide Release
Rab GTPases comprise the largest family of proteins among the small Ras-like GTPase superfamily functioning as critical regulators of a variety of membrane transport processes . Sec4p is among the 11 Rab GTPases identified in S. cerevisiae and acts on the surface of membranes to regulate transport between the Golgi apparatus and the plasma membrane [2–4]. The localization pattern of Sec4p depends upon its guanine nucleotide bound state. In the GTP bound state Sec4p exhibits an active conformation capable of interaction with targets on the plasma membrane. After GTP hydrolysis, the protein becomes inactive for effector recruitment and is then recycled from the plasma membrane and delivered back to the donor membrane. To complete the cycle, the protein is reactivated by switching the guanine nucleotide state from GDP to GTP in a process stimulated by guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs). The GTPase cycle is controlled by interactions with regulators and effectors and is dependent on structural changes caused by the guanine nucleotide bound state of the protein [5–8]. Members of the GTPase family are known to share high overall structural homology. However, the differences in sequence identity of key domains known as Switch I, Switch II and the P-loop are sufficient to establish the interaction with specific regulators and effectors [5, 9–12]. Mutations in equivalent regions in Ras are commonly present in oncogenic cells and are known to perturb interactions with regulators leading to imbalance of the GTPase cycle. For example, Ras mutation Gly12Val, which is located in the P-loop region, confers reduced intrinsic GTPase activity and insensitivity to the action of GTPase Activating Protein (GAP) . As a result, this Ras variant preferentially remains in the GTP-bound conformation leading to constitutive signaling and cell transformation [14, 15].
In this study we investigate the activation mechanism of Sec4p by making use of the Ser29Val mutant. Both intrinsic and stimulated nucleotide exchange reactions of Sec4pV29 show decreased rates similar to those observed previously for Rab3a . In addition, we have solved the crystal structures of Sec4pV29 in the GDP-bound state and in complex with Sec2p in order to analyze the structural properties of the mutant. The structural refinement for the complex Sec4pV29.Sec2p reveals an intermediate state of the nucleotide dissociation reaction with the GDP bound to Sec4p that we postulate is the result of the reduced rate of GDP release from the mutant V29. We have also performed nucleotide exchange reactions using different truncations of Sec2p in order to determine the minimal region of Sec2p necessary for its GEF activity. We found that amino acids 142–160 of Sec2p are essential for full exchange activity, despite their distal location from Sec4p binding region. Even after much study, many aspects of Rab function remain enigmatic in terms of the structural mechanisms used for their signaling output. A complete understanding of the structural properties of Sec4p, together with functional analysis of interactions with Sec2p and other regulators provides important insights into the structure/function relationships of Rab proteins during the transport process.
Cloning expression and purification
Bacterial strains used in this study
Sec2p (51–182) mutant 153–157Ala
Sec2p (51–182) mutant 142–147Ala
Sec2p (51–182) mutant F109A
Sec4p (19–187) mutant E80A and R81A,
Sec2p (51–142) K140C,
Preparation of Sec4p.GDP.Sec2p complex
Sec4p 19 − 187 S29V and Sec2p51–142 were first purified separately and then a 1.8-fold molar excess of Sec2p51–142 was mixed with Sec4p 19 − 187 S29V in buffer containing 20 mM Tris-HCl pH8.0 100 NaCl, 5 mM MgCl2 for 2 h at 4 °C. After incubation, the protein mixture was concentrated and applied into a size exclusion column Superdex200 (10/300) (GE Healthcare) to isolate the protein complex. Complex formation was evaluated by SDS-PAGE.
Crystallization and data collection
Data collection and refinement statistics
Data collection statistics
116.900 119.280 122.860
a, b, c (Å)
31.720, 75.450, 66.230
Resolution range (Å)
No. reflections/no. unique reflections
Resolution range (Å)
no. of reflections (working data/test data)
Mean B value/Wilson B value (protein, all atoms) (Å2)
Mean B value (ligand) (Å2)
rmsd bond length (Å)
rmsd bond angle (°)
Crystallization trials for the ternary complex Sec4p 19 − 187 S29V .GDP.Sec2p51–142 were performed at a protein concentration of 15 mg/ml. Crystals were grown by mixing protein complex with a reservoir solution containing 24 % PEG3350 0.2 M Sodium Citrate in a 1:1 ratio and with the addition of 10 mM GDP to the drop. Crystals were soaked in a cryoprotectant solution containing the mother liquor (14 % PEG4000, 50 mM Zinc Acetate) supplemented with 20 % glycerol prior to flash-cooling in 100 K nitrogen gas stream. The crystallographic data was collected at the Brookhaven National Laboratories (BNL) National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS). The crystal diffracted up to 2.9 Å resolution and belong to space group I222 with one ternary complex per asymmetric unit (% solvent).
Structural determination and refinement
All the data sets were processed using Mosflm  and Scala [20, 21]. The crystal structure for the mutant S29V of Sec4p was solved by molecular replacement with the program Phaser  using the wild-type structure of Sec4p.GDP as a model (accession code: 1G16) . The crystal structure for the ternary complex Sec4p 19 − 187 S29V .GDP.Sec2p51–142 was also solved with Phaser  using a previously solved structure of the complex Sec4p.Sec2p bound to a phosphate molecule (accession code: 2EQB) . The structure refinement was performed by alternating automatic refinement using Refmac , Phenix  and manual inspection using Coot .
Preparation of Sec4p.mantGDP and enzyme assays
In order to perform the nucleotide exchange experiments all the GTPases used in this work were preloaded with mantGDP. The procedure consists of incubating the protein sample (buffer: 20 mM Tris–HCl pH8.0 100 mM NaCl, 2 mM MgCl2) with a 2-fold excess of mantGDP over the protein concentration and 5 mM EDTA. The mixture was incubated at room temperature for 10 min and the reaction stopped with the addition of 10 mM MgCl2. The unbound nucleotide was separated from the sample using a spin column (Micro Bio-Spin 6, Bio-Rad) and the protein eluted in buffer containing 20 mM Tris-HCl pH8.0, 100 mM NaCl, 5 mM MgCl2. The protein concentration was measured by Bradford .
Fluorescence measurements were performed in buffer containing 20 mM Tris–HCl pH8.0 100 mM NaCl, 5 mM MgCl2 at room temperature. All the measurements were carried out in a QuantaMaster™ 40 fluorescence spectrometer (PTI). The mantGDP was excited at 360 nm and emission detected at 450 nm. For the intrinsic nucleotide exchange assay, time-based fluorescence was performed by collecting the fluorescence intensity in intervals specified in the plots. The data were normalized and plotted using Kaleidograph software (Synergy Software).
The fast kinetic experiments were performed in buffer containing 20 mM Tris–HCl pH8.0 100 mM NaCl, 5 mM MgCl2 at room temperature. The experiments were carried out using a stop flow apparatus coupled to a QuantaMaster™ 40 fluorescence spectrometer (PTI). The mantGDP was excited at 360 nm and emission was detected at 450 nm. The data were normalized and plotted using Kaleidograph software (Synergy Software).
In vivo assay for Sec2p function
In order to assess if various Sec2 constructs could act as the only copy of Sec2 in the cell transformants of a Sec2 tester strain were streaked to 5-FOA media to select for loss of the URA3 SEC2 plasmid. Yeast expressing wild type SEC2 can survive equivalently on the 5-FOA containing media, while a control plasmid with no insert cannot.
Availability of supporting data
The data set supporting the results of this article are available in the Protein Data Bank (PDB) repository Accession Codes 4ZDW and 4Z8Y.
Sec4pV29 is only partially activated by Sec2p
Crystal structure of Sec4pV29
Our data shows that the mutation S29V on Sec4p is responsible for the reduction in both intrinsic and stimulated nucleotide dissociation. This mutation does not appear to cause any gross conformational differences in the three-dimensional structure of the protein. Therefore the increased affinity between Sec4pV29 and the nucleotide is probably due to loss of intramolecular electrostatic interactions caused by the presence of the valine non-polar side chain. A similar issue has been observed previously for the oncogenic mutant of Ras GTPase.
Crystal structure of the ternary complex Sec4pV29.GDP.Sec2p
Structural and functional analysis of the coiled coil domain of Sec2p
Enhancement of dimerization with disulfide bond increases activity of the truncation Sec2p51–142
In this work we have investigated the nucleotide exchange mechanism of the Rab GTPase Sec4p and how its GEF Sec2p stimulates nucleotide dissociation, making use of the Sec4p mutant S29V corresponding to Gly12 in Ras proteins. Ras Glycine 12 has been extensively linked to the formation of cancer cells caused by the imbalance in the GTPase cycle of Ras. Since mutations on the same residue in Rab GTPases have been suggested to display the opposite phenotype, mutating the Ser29 to Val in Sec4p offered us a tool to study Sec4p activation giving us insights into the basic differences between members of the Ras GTPase superfamily.
We have determined that the mutation S29V clearly reduces the intrinsic nucleotide dissociation rate of Sec4p in comparison to the wild type protein. In order to investigate the structural implications of the mutation S29V we solved the structure of Sec4pV29 in the GDP bound state. The structure of Sec4pV29.GDP presents a very similar fold to the wild type protein indicating that the decrease in the intrinsic nucleotide dissociation rate is not due to large conformational changes. This is similar to observations of equivalent mutations in other GTPase family members. The structures of the mutant G12V of p21ras and Cdc42 for example do not exhibit explicit conformational changes due to the G12V mutation when compared with the wild type equivalents [36–39].
The difference in nucleotide dissociation rate is most likely explained by changes in the protein-nucleotide environment created by the hydrophobic side chain of the Val29. The mutation from the polar residue serine to the just slightly larger hydrophobic valine creates a more hydrophobic local environment. We can predict that the energy cost to solvate the active site of the mutant Val29 would be larger than for the wild type protein and could indirectly result in the increased binding affinity of the protein for the nucleotide. Furthermore, Sec2p stimulates the nucleotide dissociation from Sec4pV29 at a slower rate than the rate observed for Sec4pwt. During activation Sec2p binds to Sec4p causing conformational changes leading to the loss of magnesium and decreased affinity for the nucleotide. For the mutant, an increase in the affinity for the nucleotide due to the presence of Val29 would decelerate nucleotide release and explain the observed decrease in the intrinsic nucleotide dissociation rate. Another interesting property of the mutant is that Sec2p can stably associate with the GDP bound state of Sec4pV29 even in the presence of magnesium. In contrast, Sec2p preferentially associates with the nucleotide free state of wild type Sec4p. We analyzed the crystal structure for the complex Sec4pV29 and Sec2p and determined that the complex was bound to a GDP molecule. This complex most likely represents the intermediate state of the nucleotide dissociation just before nucleotide release. Prior to this study two structures for the complex of Sec4p.Sec2p have been described. These structures represent the free form of the complex  and the phosphate bound form of the complex , and together explain the nucleotide exchange mechanism in molecular detail. Superposition between the two structures that represent the intermediate state of the reaction (Sec4pV29.GDP.Sec2p and Sec4pwt.phosphate.Sec2p) reveals that besides the overall similarities, a small shift in the P-loop results in a slightly tighter active site. The distance between the P-loop and Switch I, more specifically between the residues Val29 and Ile50 is shortened in comparison with the structure Sec4pwt.phosphate.Sec2p. The slight alteration in the active site, places the Ile50 residue very close to the magnesium binding site. It is thought that the Ile50 residue plays a critical role preventing magnesium rebinding to the protein after complex formation . In the free state of the complex Sec4p.Sec2p, the Ile50 residue is placed within 0.9 Å from the magnesium binding site. The shift in the P-loop observed in our structure would place the whole active site closer to the SWI and more specifically to the Ile50 residue. We can predict that this difference would make magnesium rebinding to the intermediate state of the complex more difficult and together with the increase in the affinity for the nucleotide it could explain why the GDP bound state of Sec4pV29 can form a stable complex with Sec2p.
During our nucleotide dissociation studies we discovered that the truncation Sec2p51–142 stimulates nucleotide release from Sec4p at a much slower rate than the truncation containing the 18 residues in region 142–160. This was somehow surprising because the Sec4p binding site of Sec2p lies between residues 100–120, and the absence of the region 142–160 would not directly affect the protein protein interaction. However, looking closely, this region possesses several leucine residues forming a classical coiled-coil packing interface that could be important for dimer formation and protein stability. Mutation of the leucine residues participating in the coiled coil interaction to alanines reduced protein activity, most likely through a disruption of the dimer coiled-coil structure.
To further validate the idea that disruption of dimerization causes reduced Sec2p activity, we created the mutant K140C on the truncation of Sec2p51–142. This truncation of Sec2p contains all the elements necessary for GEF activity however, has a slower activity than a protein which contains the dimer interface region between residues 142–160. The idea is that the formation of a disulfide linkage between the equivalent cysteine residues from both monomers would recapitulate dimerization in the absence of residues 142–160. The results of the nucleotide exchange assays show that in the absence of reducing agent the nucleotide dissociation rate for Sec2 S1 ‐ 142 K140C increased drastically in comparison to the wild type truncation Sec2p51–142, to a level similar to the truncation containing the coiled coil region 142–160 of Sec2p. These data indicates that although the region 142–160 is not directly involved in the binding to Sec4p this region is important for protein dimerization and indirectly affects protein activity. In addition, we determined that the first 50 residues in the Sec2p NH2-terminus do not affect GEF activity, but are important for full Sec2p function in vivo. This study extends the determination of a minimal GEF region for Sec4 and Sec2p interaction and establishes a minimal region of Sec2p containing the fully active enzyme, which we determined to be between residues 51–160. The intrinsic nucleotide dissociation rate of Sec4p is high relative to other Ras-related GTPases and the biological necessity for the potent GEF activity of Sec2p remains a mystery. A complete understanding of the mechanism of Sec2p action, together with functional analysis and interactions with other protein partners will provide important insights into the role of Sec4p and related Rab GTPases during exocytosis.
Guanine nucleotide exchange factor
GTPase activating protein
Phosphate binding loop
Protein Data Bank
We thank members of the Collins, Sondermann and Whittaker lab for helpful discussions. This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (5R01GM069596) to R.N.C. We thank the staff at MacCHESS for help with data collection.
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