Calmodulin is the predominant intracellular receptor for Ca(2+) signals, mediating the regulation of numerous cellular processes. Previous studies have shown that calcium-loaded calmodulin can bind to and inhibit the activity of certain basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors. The basic sequence within the bHLH domain is the primary target for calmodulin binding, and sequences modulating the calmodulin interaction reside directly N-terminal to the basic sequence. Here we show that the interaction of calmodulin with bHLH proteins is of a novel type, displaying characteristics very different from those of previously characterized calmodulin-target complexes. We show that calmodulin interacts much stronger with a dimeric basic sequence than with the monomeric form. The calmodulin-bHLH protein complex contains equimolar amounts of calmodulin and bHLH chains. The interaction is unusual in being to a large extent polar in nature, and it is highly resistant to tested calmodulin inhibitors. Both the N-terminal and C-terminal domains of calmodulin can independently bind to and inhibit the DNA binding of bHLH proteins. The C-terminal domain preferentially binds to the basic sequence, whereas the N-terminal domain is essential for the effect of the modulatory sequence. We propose a model for the calmodulin-bHLH complex where two calmodulin molecules interact with one bHLH dimer, with one domain of calmodulin preferentially binding to the basic sequence of bHLH proteins and the other domain interacting with the modulatory sequence.
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