How to Arm a Supervillin: Designing F-Actin Binding Activity into Supervillin Headpiece

Jeffrey W. Brown, Didem Vardar-Ulu, C. James McKnight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


Villin-type headpiece domains are compact motifs that have been used extensively as model systems for protein folding. Although the majority of headpiece domains bind actin, there are some that lack this activity. Here, we present the first NMR solution structure and 15N-relaxation analysis of a villin-type headpiece domain natively devoid of F-actin binding activity, that of supervillin headpiece (SVHP). The structure was found to be similar to that of other headpiece domains that bind F-actin. Our NMR analysis demonstrates that SVHP lacks a conformationally flexible region (V-loop) present in all other villin-type headpiece domains and which is essential to the phosphoryl regulation of dematin headpiece. In comparing the electrostatic surface potential map of SVHP to that of other villin-type headpiece domains with significant affinity for F-actin, we identified a positive surface potential conserved among headpiece domains that bind F-actin but absent from SVHP. A single point mutation (L38K) in SVHP, which creates a similar positive surface potential, endowed SVHP with specific affinity for F-actin that is within an order of magnitude of the tightest binding headpiece domains. We propose that this effect is likely conferred by a specific buried salt bridge between headpiece and actin. As no high-resolution structural information exists for the villin-type headpiece F-actin complex, our results demonstrate that through positive mutagenesis, it is possible to design binding activity into homologous proteins without structural information of the counterpart's binding surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-618
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 30 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • NMR structure and relaxation
  • electrostatic surface potential
  • protein design
  • supervillin
  • villin-type headpiece domain

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