The Rab/Ypt/Sec4 family forms the largest branch of the Ras superfamily of GTPases, acting as essential regulators of vesicular transport pathways. We used the large amount of information in the databases to analyse the mammalian Rab family. We defined Rab-conserved sequences that we designate Rab family (RabF) motifs using the conserved PM and G motifs as "landmarks". The Rab-specific regions were used to identify new Rab proteins in the databases and suggest rules for nomenclature. Surprisingly, we find that RabF regions cluster in and around switch I and switch II regions, i.e. the regions that change conformation upon GDP or GTP binding. This finding suggests that specificity of Rab-effector interaction cannot be conferred solely through the switch regions as is usually inferred. Instead, we propose a model whereby an effector binds to RabF (switch) regions to discriminate between nucleotide-bound states and simultaneously to other regions that confer specificity to the interaction, possibly Rab subfamily (RabSF) specific regions that we also define here. We discuss structural and functional data that support this model and its general applicability to the Ras superfamily of proteins.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.