National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, p. 201600385
Calmodulin (CaM) is a Ca(2+)-sensing protein that is highly conserved and ubiquitous in eukaryotes. In humans it is a locus of life-threatening cardiomyopathies. The primary function of CaM is to transduce Ca(2+) concentration into cellular signals by binding to a wide range of target proteins in a Ca(2+)-dependent manner. We do not fully understand how CaM performs its role as a high-fidelity signal transducer for more than 300 target proteins, but diversity among its four Ca(2+)-binding sites, called EF-hands, may contribute to CaM's functional versatility. We therefore looked at the conservation of CaM sequences over deep evolutionary time, focusing primarily on the four EF-hand motifs. Expanding on previous work, we found that CaM evolves slowly but that its evolutionary rate is substantially faster in fungi. We also found that the four EF-hands have distinguishing biophysical and structural properties that span eukaryotes. These results suggest that all eukaryotes require CaM to decode Ca(2+) signals using four specialized EF-hands, each with specific, conserved traits. In addition, we provide an extensive map of sites associated with target proteins and with human disease and correlate these with evolutionary sequence diversity. Our comprehensive evolutionary analysis provides a basis for understanding the sequence space associated with CaM function and should help guide future work on the relationship between structure, function, and disease.