ReviewStructural Biology

The Vitamin D Sterol–Vitamin D Receptor Ensemble Model Offers Unique Insights into Both Genomic and Rapid-Response Signaling

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Sci. Signal.  16 Jun 2009:
Vol. 2, Issue 75, pp. re4
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.275re4

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Steroid hormones serve as chemical messengers in a wide number of species and target tissues by transmitting signals that result in both genomic and nongenomic responses. Genomic responses are mediated by the formation of a ligand-receptor complex with its cognate steroid hormone nuclear receptor (NR). Nongenomic responses can be mediated at the plasma membrane by a membrane-localized NR. The focus of this Review is on the structural attributes and molecular mechanisms underlying vitamin D sterol (VDS)–vitamin D receptor (VDR) selective and stereospecific regulation of nongenomic and genomic signaling. The VDS-VDR conformational ensemble model describes how VDSs can selectively initiate or block either nongenomic or genomic biological responses by interacting with two VDR ligand-binding pockets, one kinetically favored by 1α,25(OH)2D3 (1,25D) and the other thermodynamically favored. We describe the variables that affect the three major elements of the model: the conformational flexibility of the unliganded (apo) protein, the flexibility of the VDS, and the physicochemical selectivity of the VDR genomic pocket (VDR-GP) and alternative pocket (VDR-AP). We also discuss how these three factors collectively provide a rational explanation for the complexities of VDS regulation of cell biology and highlight the current limitations of the model.

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