Subclassification of the RBCC/TRIM superfamily reveals a novel motif necessary for microtubule binding.
The biological significance of RBCC (N-terminal RING finger/B-box/coiled coil) proteins is increasingly being appreciated following demonstrated roles in disease pathogenesis, tumorigenesis, and retroviral protective activity. Found in all multicellular eukaryotes, RBCC proteins are involved in a vast array of intracellular functions; but as a general rule, they appear to function as part of large protein complexes and possess ubiquitin-protein isopeptide ligase activity. Those members characterized to date have diverse C-terminal domain compositions and equally diverse subcellular localizations and functions. Using a bioinformatics approach, we have identified some new RBCC proteins that help define a subfamily that shares an identical domain arrangement (MID1, MID2, TRIM9, TNL, TRIM36, and TRIFIC). Significantly, we show that all analyzed members of this subfamily associate with the microtubule cytoskeleton, suggesting that subcellular compartmentalization is determined by the unique domain architecture, which may in turn reflect basic functional similarities. We also report a new motif called the COS box, which is found within these proteins, the MURF family, and a distantly related non-RBCC microtubule-binding protein. Notably, we demonstrate that mutations in the COS box abolish microtubule binding ability, whereas its incorporation into a nonmicrotubule-binding RBCC protein redirects it to microtubule structures. Further bioinformatics investigation permitted subclassification of the entire human RBCC complement into nine subfamilies based on their varied C-terminal domain compositions. This classification schema may aid the understanding of the molecular function of members of each subgroup and their potential involvement in both basic cellular processes and human disease.