Comprehensive analysis of HAMP domains: implications for transmembrane signal transduction

J Mol Biol. 2010 Apr 16;397(5):1156-74. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2010.02.031. Epub 2010 Feb 23.


Homodimeric receptors with one or two transmembrane (TM) segments per monomer are universal to life and represent the largest and most diverse group of cellular TM receptors. They frequently share domain types across phyla and, in some cases, have been recombined experimentally into functional chimeras (e.g., the bacterial aspartate chemoreceptor with the human insulin receptor), suggesting that they have a common mechanism. The nature of this mechanism, however, is still being debated. We have proposed a new model for transduction mechanism by axial helix rotation, based on the structure of a widespread domain, HAMP, that frequently occurs in direct continuation of the last TM segment, primarily in histidine kinases and chemoreceptors. Here we show by statistical analysis that HAMP domain sequences have biophysical properties compatible with the two conformations proposed by the model. The analysis also identifies three networks of coevolving residues, which allow the mechanism to subdivide into individual steps. The most extended of these networks is specific for membrane-bound HAMP domains and most likely accepts the signal from the TM helices. In a classification based on sequence clustering, these HAMPs form a central supercluster, surrounded by smaller clusters of divergent HAMPs, which typically combine into arrays of up to 31 consecutive copies and accept conformational input from other HAMP domains. Unexpectedly, the classification shows a division between domains of histidine kinases and those of chemoreceptors; thus, except for a few versatile lineages, HAMP domains are largely specific for one particular output domain. Within proteins using a given output domain, HAMP domains also show extensive coevolution with histidine kinases, but not with chemoreceptors. We attribute the greater capability for recombination among chemoreceptors to their acquisition of a reversible modification system, which acts as a capacitor for the initially deleterious effects of combining domains optimized in different contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Histidine Kinase
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Kinases
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / chemistry*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Protein Kinases
  • Histidine Kinase