Promiscuous recognition of ligands by proteins is as important as strict recognition in numerous biological processes. In living cells, many short, linear amino acid motifs function as targeting signals in proteins to specify the final destination of the protein transport. In general, the target signal is defined by a consensus sequence containing wild-characters, and hence represented by diverse amino acid sequences. The classical lock-and-key or induced-fit/conformational selection mechanism may not cover all aspects of the promiscuous recognition. On the basis of our crystallographic and NMR studies on the mitochondrial Tom20 protein–presequence interaction, we proposed a new hypothetical mechanism based on “a rapid equilibrium of multiple states with partial recognitions”. This dynamic, multiple recognition mode enables the Tom20 receptor to recognize diverse mitochondrial presequences with nearly equal affinities. The plant Tom20 is evolutionally unrelated to the animal Tom20 in our study, but is a functional homolog of the animal/fungal Tom20. NMR studies by another research group revealed that the presequence binding by the plant Tom20 was not fully explained by simple interaction modes, suggesting the presence of a similar dynamic, multiple recognition mode. Circumstantial evidence also suggested that similar dynamic mechanisms may be applicable to other promiscuous recognitions of signal peptides by the SRP54/Ffh and SecA proteins.
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