The role of the hypervariable C-terminal domain in Rab GTPases membrane targeting

PNAS, 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1313655111, vol. 111 no. 7, 2572–2577 published on 18.02.2014
PNAS, online article
Intracellular membrane trafficking requires correct and specific localization of Rab GTPases. The hypervariable C-terminal domain (HVD) of Rabs is posttranslationally modified by isoprenyl moieties that enable membrane association. A model asserting HVD-directed targeting has been contested in previous studies, but the role of the Rab HVD and the mechanism of Rab membrane targeting remain elusive. To elucidate the function of the HVD, we have substituted this region with an unnatural polyethylenglycol (PEG) linker by using oxime ligation. The PEGylated Rab proteins undergo normal prenylation, underlining the unique ability of the Rab prenylation machinery to process the Rab family with diverse C-terminal sequences. Through localization studies and functional analyses of semisynthetic PEGylated Rab1, Rab5, Rab7, and Rab35 proteins, we demonstrate that the role of the HVD of Rabs in membrane targeting is more complex than previously understood. The HVD of Rab1 and Rab5 is dispensable for membrane targeting and appears to function simply as a linker between the GTPase domain and the membrane. The N-terminal residues of the Rab7 HVD are important for late endosomal/lysosomal localization, apparently due to their involvement in interaction with the Rab7 effector Rab-interacting lysosomal protein. The C-terminal polybasic cluster of the Rab35 HVD is essential for plasma membrane (PM) targeting, presumably because of the electrostatic interaction with negatively charged lipids on the PM. Our findings suggest that Rab membrane targeting is dictated by a complex mechanism involving GEFs, GAPs, effectors, and C-terminal interaction with membranes to varying extents, and possibly other binding partners.  

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