Regulation of small GTPases by GEFs, GAPs, and GDIs

Physiol Rev. 2013 Jan;93(1):269-309. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00003.2012.


Small GTPases use GDP/GTP alternation to actuate a variety of functional switches that are pivotal for cell dynamics. The GTPase switch is turned on by GEFs, which stimulate dissociation of the tightly bound GDP, and turned off by GAPs, which accelerate the intrinsically sluggish hydrolysis of GTP. For Ras, Rho, and Rab GTPases, this switch incorporates a membrane/cytosol alternation regulated by GDIs and GDI-like proteins. The structures and core mechanisms of representative members of small GTPase regulators from most families have now been elucidated, illuminating their general traits combined with scores of unique features. Recent studies reveal that small GTPase regulators have themselves unexpectedly sophisticated regulatory mechanisms, by which they process cellular signals and build up specific cell responses. These mechanisms include multilayered autoinhibition with stepwise release, feedback loops mediated by the activated GTPase, feed-forward signaling flow between regulators and effectors, and a phosphorylation code for RhoGDIs. The flipside of these highly integrated functions is that they make small GTPase regulators susceptible to biochemical abnormalities that are directly correlated with diseases, notably a striking number of missense mutations in congenital diseases, and susceptible to bacterial mimics of GEFs, GAPs, and GDIs that take command of small GTPases in infections. This review presents an overview of the current knowledge of these many facets of small GTPase regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Animals
  • Catalytic Domain
  • Enzyme Activation
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / chemistry
  • GTPase-Activating Proteins / metabolism*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Dissociation Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Guanine Nucleotide Dissociation Inhibitors / metabolism*
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / chemistry
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors / metabolism*
  • Guanosine Diphosphate / metabolism*
  • Guanosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Models, Molecular
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Signal Transduction
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • GTPase-Activating Proteins
  • Guanine Nucleotide Dissociation Inhibitors
  • Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factors
  • Guanosine Diphosphate
  • Guanosine Triphosphate
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins