Structural elements, mechanism, and evolutionary convergence of Rho protein-guanine nucleotide exchange factor complexes

Biochemistry. 2004 Feb 3;43(4):837-42. doi: 10.1021/bi036026v.


Rho GTPases act as key regulators of cellular biochemistry by determining the timing, direction, and amplitude of signal transduction in a number of important pathways. The rate of activation of a GTPase-controlled reaction is limited by the rate of GTP binding to the Rho protein, and this, in turn, depends on the rate that GDP dissociates from the GTPase. The latter is controlled by the action of guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) that catalyze GDP-GTP exchange by increasing the rate of GDP dissociation. Here, the recently reported structural information for Rho GTPase-GEF complexes and the molecular basis for the specificity of their interactions are discussed. Underscoring the importance of regulating the Rho GTPase activation pathway, genetically unrelated proteins have evolved which complement or mimic the Dbl homology-Pleckstrin homology (DH-PH) domain-containing family of proteins in their ability to catalyze GDP-GTP exchange. In particular, the structure of the mammalian Cdc42 protein bound to the SopE protein from Salmonella typhimurium illustrates how two unrelated protein folds are able to carry out guanine nucleotide exchange by a remarkably similar mechanism. It will be interesting to see if this conservation of mechanism extends to a newly recognized class of GEFs related to the DOCK180 family.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / chemistry*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / metabolism*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / physiology
  • Humans
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / physiology


  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins