Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jenny J. Yang - Chair

Second Advisor

Giovanni Gadda

Third Advisor

Charles F. Louis

Fourth Advisor

Teryl K. Frey


Ca2+, a signal for death and life, is closely involved in the regulation of numerous important cellular events. Ca2+ carries out its function through its binding to Ca2+-receptors or Ca2+-binding proteins. The EF-hand protein, with a helix-loop-helix Ca2+-binding motif, constitutes one of the largest protein families. To facilitate our understanding of the role of Ca2+ in biological systems (denoted as calciomics) using genomic information, an improved pattern search method ( for the identification of EF-hand and EF-like Ca2+-binding proteins was developed. This fast and robust method allows us to analyze putative EF-hand proteins at the genome-wide level and further visualize the evolutionary scenario of the EF-hand protein family. This prediction method further enables us to locate a putative viral EF-hand Ca2+-binding motif within the rubella virus nonstructural protease that cleaves the nonstructural protein precursor into two active replicase components. A novel grafting approach has been used to probe the metal-binding properties of this motif by engineering the predicted 12-residue Ca2+-coordinating loop into a non-Ca2+-binding scaffold protein, CD2 domain 1. Structural and conformational studies were further performed on a purified, bacterially-expressed NS protease minimal metal-binding domain spanning the Zn2+- and EF-hand Ca2+-binding motif. It was revealed that Ca2+ binding induced local conformational changes and increased thermal stability. Furthermore, functional studies were carried out using RUB infectious cDNA clone and replicon constructs. Our studies have shown that the Ca2+ binding loop played a structural role in the NS protease and was specifically required for optimal stability under physiological conditions. In addition, we have predicted and characterized a calmodulin-binding domain in the gap junction proteins connexin43 and connexin44. Peptides encompassing the CaM binding motifs were synthesized and their ability to bind CaM was determined using various biophysical approaches. Transient expression in HeLa cells of two mutant Cx43-EYFP constructs without the putative CaM-binding site eliminated the Ca2+-dependent inhibition of gap junction permeability. These results provide the first direct evidence that CaM binds to a specific region of the ubiquitous gap junction protein Cx43 and Cx44 in a Ca2+-dependent manner, providing a molecular basis for the well-characterized Ca2+-dependent inhibition of Cx43-containing gap junctions.


Included in

Chemistry Commons