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Ca2+, "a signal of life and death", controls numerous cellular processes through interactions with proteins. An effective approach to understanding the role of Ca2+ is the design of a Ca2+-binding protein with predicted structural and functional properties. To design de novo Ca2+-binding sites in proteins is challenging due to the high coordination numbers and the incorporation of charged ligand residues, in addition to Ca2+-induced conformational change. Here, we demonstrate the successful design of a Ca2+-binding site in the non-Ca2+-binding cell adhesion protein CD2. This designed protein, Ca.CD2, exhibits selectivity for Ca2+ versus other di- and monovalent cations. In addition, La3+ (Kd 5.0 microM) and Tb3+ (Kd 6.6 microM) bind to the designed protein somewhat more tightly than does Ca2+ (Kd 1.4 mM). More interestingly, Ca.CD2 retains the native ability to associate with the natural target molecule. The solution structure reveals that Ca.CD2 binds Ca2+ at the intended site with the designed arrangement, which validates our general strategy for designing de novo Ca2+-binding proteins. The structural information also provides a close view of structural determinants that are necessary for a functional protein to accommodate the metal-binding site. This first success in designing Ca2+-binding proteins with desired structural and functional properties opens a new avenue in unveiling key determinants to Ca2+ binding, the mechanism of Ca2+ signaling, and Ca2+-dependent cell adhesion, while avoiding the complexities of the global conformational changes and cooperativity in natural Ca2+-binding proteins. It also represents a major achievement toward designing functional proteins controlled by Ca2+ binding.

Original publication




Journal article


J Am Chem Soc

Publication Date





2085 - 2093


Animals, Binding Sites, CD2 Antigens, Calcium, Calcium-Binding Proteins, Cell Adhesion Molecules, Models, Molecular, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular, Protein Engineering, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Rats, Spectrometry, Fluorescence, Surface Plasmon Resonance, Terbium