Active and Inactive Cdc42 Differ in Their Insert Region Conformational Dynamics

Nurit Haspel, Hyunbum Jang, Ruth Nussinov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cell division control protein 42 homolog (Cdc42) protein, a Ras superfamily GTPase, regulates cellular activities, including cancer progression. Using all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and essential dynamic analysis, we investigated the structure and dynamics of the catalytic domains of GDP-bound (inactive) and GTP-bound (active) Cdc42 in solution. We discovered substantial differences in the dynamics of the inactive and active forms, particularly in the “insert region” (residues 122–135), which plays a role in Cdc42 activation and binding to effectors. The insert region has larger conformational flexibility in the GDP-bound Cdc42 than in the GTP-bound Cdc42. The G2 loop and switch I at the effector lobe of the catalytic domain exhibit large conformational changes in both the GDP- and the GTP-bound systems, but in the GTP-bound Cdc42, the switch I interactions with GTP are retained. Oncogenic mutations were identified in the Ras superfamily. In Cdc42, the G12V and Q61L mutations decrease the GTPase activity. We simulated these mutations in both GDP- and GTP-bound Cdc42. Although the overall structural organization is quite similar between the wild type and the mutants, there are small differences in the conformational dynamics, especially in the two switch regions. Taken together, the G12V and Q61L mutations may play a role similar to their K-Ras counterparts in nucleotide binding and activation. The conformational differences, which are mainly in the insert region and, to a lesser extent, in the switch regions flanking the nucleotide binding site, can shed light on binding and activation. We propose that the differences are due to a network of hydrogen bonds that gets disrupted when Cdc42 is bound to GDP, a disruption that does not exist in other Rho GTPases. The differences in the dynamics between the two Cdc42 states suggest that the inactive conformation has reduced ability to bind to effectors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-318
Number of pages13
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 19 Jan 2021


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