Cyclic di-GMP (c-di-GMP) synthetases and hydrolases (GGDEF, EAL, and HD-GYP domains) can be readily identified in bacterial genome sequences by using standard bioinformatic tools. In contrast, identification of c-di-GMP receptors remains a difficult task, and the current list of experimentally characterized c-di-GMP-binding proteins is likely incomplete. Several classes of c-di-GMP-binding proteins have been structurally characterized; for some others, the binding sites have been identified; and for several potential c-di-GMP receptors, the binding sites remain to be determined. We present here a comparative structural analysis of c-di-GMP-protein complexes that aims to discern the common themes in the binding mechanisms that allow c-di-GMP receptors to bind it with (sub)micromolar affinities despite the 1,000-fold excess of GTP. The available structures show that most receptors use their Arg and Asp/Glu residues to bind c-di-GMP monomers, dimers, or tetramers with stacked guanine bases. The only exception is the EAL domains that bind c-di-GMP monomers in an extended conformation. We show that in c-di-GMP-binding signature motifs, Arg residues bind to the O-6 and N-7 atoms at the Hoogsteen edge of the guanine base, while Asp/Glu residues bind the N-1 and N-2 atoms at its Watson-Crick edge. In addition, Arg residues participate in stacking interactions with the guanine bases of c-di-GMP and the aromatic rings of Tyr and Phe residues. This may account for the presence of Arg residues in the active sites of every receptor protein that binds stacked c-di-GMP. We also discuss the implications of these structural data for the improved understanding of the c-di-GMP signaling mechanisms.
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