The genetic code that dictates how nucleic acids are translated into proteins is well known, however, the code through which proteins recognize membranes remains mysterious. In eukaryotes, this code is mediated by hundreds of membrane readers that recognize unique phosphatidylinositol phosphates (PIPs), which demark organelles to initiate localized trafficking and signaling events. The only superfamily which specifically detects all seven PIPs are the Phox homology (PX) domains. Here, we reveal that throughout evolution, these readers are universally regulated by the phosphorylation of their PIP binding surfaces based on our analysis of existing and modelled protein structures and phosphoproteomic databases. These PIP-stops control the selective targeting of proteins to organelles and are shown to be key determinants of high-fidelity PIP recognition. The protein kinases responsible include prominent cancer targets, underscoring the critical role of regulated membrane readership.
Keywords: PX domain; lipid specificity; membrane recognition; phosphoinositide binding; post-translational modification; protein phosphorylation; regulation.