We compiled >200 nuclear export signal (NES)-containing CRM1 cargoes in a database named NESdb. We analyzed the sequences and three-dimensional structures of natural, experimentally identified NESs and of false-positive NESs that were generated from the database in order to identify properties that might distinguish the two groups of sequences. Analyses of amino acid frequencies, sequence logos, and agreement with existing NES consensus sequences revealed strong preferences for the Φ1-X(3)-Φ2-X(2)-Φ3-X-Φ4 pattern and for negatively charged amino acids in the nonhydrophobic positions of experimentally identified NESs but not of false positives. Strong preferences against certain hydrophobic amino acids in the hydrophobic positions were also revealed. These findings led to a new and more precise NES consensus. More important, three-dimensional structures are now available for 68 NESs within 56 different cargo proteins. Analyses of these structures showed that experimentally identified NESs are more likely than the false positives to adopt α-helical conformations that transition to loops at their C-termini and more likely to be surface accessible within their protein domains or be present in disordered or unobserved parts of the structures. Such distinguishing features for real NESs might be useful in future NES prediction efforts. Finally, we also tested CRM1-binding of 40 NESs that were found in the 56 structures. We found that 16 of the NES peptides did not bind CRM1, hence illustrating how NESs are easily misidentified.
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