Yun Huang

Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jenny J. Yang - Chair

Second Advisor

Edward Brown

Third Advisor

Giovanni Gadda

Fourth Advisor

Zhi-ren Liu


Ca2+, both as a first and a second messenger, is closely involved in the modulation and regulation of numerous important cellular events, such as cell proliferation, differentiation and cell death. Fine-tuned Ca2+ signaling is achieved by its reversible or irreversible binding to a repertoire of Ca2+ signaling molecules. Among them, the extracellular calcium sensing receptor (CaSR) senses Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]o) in the milieu outside of cells where Ca2+ serves as a first messenger. An array of naturally-occurring mutations in CaSR has been found in patients with inherited disorders of Ca2+ homeostasis, leading to abnormal intracellular responses toward [Ca2+]o. In the present study, we have computationally predicted and experimentally characterized the metal-binding properties of five Ca2+-binding sites within CaSR and the accompanying metal--induced conformational changes by using two complementary methods-the grafting approach and the subdomain approach. Based on our results, a model has been proposed to explain the distinct CaSR-mediated responses toward abnormally ¡°high¡± or ¡°low¡± extracellular Ca2+ levels. In addition, we predicted and verified the interaction between CaSR with the most ubiquitously expressed four EF-hand-containing intracellular Ca2+ sensor protein, calmodulin (CaM). Our results demonstrate that the C-terminal CaM-binding domain of the CaSR is essential for proper intracellular Ca2+ response to external signals. Furthermore, we have applied the grafting approach to study the metal-binding properties and oligomeric state of the single EF-hand containing protein, STIM1. Our studies confirmed that the single EF-hand motif in STIM1, which resides in an equilibratium between its monomeric and dimeric forms, was capable of binding Ca2+ with a dissociation constant comparable to the ER Ca2+ concentration, suggesting it could function as a ER Ca2+ sensor responsible for sensing the Ca2+ filling state of ER.