Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jenny J. Yang

Second Advisor

Charles F. Louis

Third Advisor

Richard D. Veenstra

Fourth Advisor

Aimin Liu

Fifth Advisor

Siming Wang


Calcium and calmodulin are implicated in mediating the Ca2+-dependent regulation of gap junctions that are essential for the intercellular transmission of molecules such as nutrients, metabolites, metal ions and signal messengers (< 1000 Da) through its specialized cell membrane channels and communication to extracellular environment. To understand the key determinants for calcium and calmodulin regulation of gap junction, in this study, we identified a calmodulin binding domain in the second half of the intracellular loop of Cxonnexin50 (the major gap junction protein found in an eye lens) using peptide fragments that encompass predicted CaM binding sites and various biophysical methods. Our study provides the first direct evidence that CaM binds to a specific region of the ubiquitous gap junction protein Cx50 in a Ca2+-dependent manner. Furthermore, two novel CaM binding regions in cytosolic loop and C-termini of Connexin43 (the most ubiquitous connexin) have been shown to interact with CaM with different binding modes in the presence of Ca2+ using high resolution NMR. Our results also elucidate the molecular determinants of regulation of gap junction by multiple CaM targeting regions and provide insight into the molecular basis of gap junction gating mechanism and the binding of CaM to the cytoslic region Cx43-3p as the major regulation site. Upon response to the cytosolic calcium increase, CaM binds to the cytosolic loop to result in the conformational change of gap junction and close the channel. It is possible for CaM to use an adjacent region as an anchor close to the regulation site to allow for fast response. Since a large number of residues in the Cxs mutated in human diseases reside at the highly identified CaM binding sites in Cxs, our studies provide insights into define the critical cellular changes and molecular mechanisms contributing to human disease pathogenesis as part of an integrated molecular model for the calcium regulation of GJs. In addition, we have applied the grafting approach to probe the metal binding capability of predicted EF-hand motifs within the streptococcal hemoprotein receptor (Shr) of Streptococcus pyrogenes as well as the nonstructural protein 1 (nsP1) of Sindbis virus and Poxvirus. This fast and robust method allows us to analyze putative EF-hand proteins at genome-wide scale and to further visualize the evolutionary scenario of the EF-hand protein family. Further, mass spectrometry has also been applied to probe modification of proteins such as CaM labeling by florescence dye and 7E15 by PEG.