The activity of several cytosolic proteins critically depends on the concentration of calcium ions. One important intracellular calcium-sensing protein is alpha-actinin-1, the major actin crosslinking protein in focal adhesions and stress fibers. The actin crosslinking activity of alpha-actinin-1 has been proposed to be negatively regulated by calcium, but the underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. To address this, we determined the first high-resolution NMR structure of its functional calmodulin-like domain (CaMD) in calcium-bound and calcium-free form. These structures reveal that in the absence of calcium, CaMD displays a conformationally flexible ensemble that undergoes a structural change upon calcium binding, leading to limited rotation of the N- and C-terminal lobes around the connecting linker and consequent stabilization of the calcium-loaded structure. Mutagenesis experiments, coupled with mass-spectrometry and isothermal calorimetry data designed to validate the calcium binding stoichiometry and binding site, showed that human non-muscle alpha-actinin-1 binds a single calcium ion within the N-terminal lobe. Finally, based on our structural data and analogy with other alpha-actinins, we provide a structural model of regulation of the actin crosslinking activity of alpha-actinin-1 where calcium induced structural stabilisation causes fastening of the juxtaposed actin binding domain, leading to impaired capacity to crosslink actin.
2016. Vol. 6, 27383