Calmodulin is a small (148 residues), ubiquitous, highly-conserved Ca(2+) binding protein serving as a modulator of many calcium-dependent processes. In this study, we followed, by means of molecular dynamics, the structural stability of the protein when one of its four bound Ca(2+) ions is removed, and compared it to a simulation of the fully Ca(2+) bound protein. We found that the removal of a single Ca(2+) ion from the N-lobe of the protein, which has a lower affinity for the ion, is sufficient to initiate a considerable structural rearrangement. Although the overall structure of the fully 4 Ca(2+) bound protein remained intact in the extended conformation, the Ca(2+)-removed protein changed its conformation into a compact state. The observation that the 3 Ca(2+) loaded protein assumes a compacted solution state is in accord with experimental observation that the NSCP protein, which binds only three Ca(2+) ions, is natively in a compact state. Examination of the folding dynamics reveals a cooperation between the C-lobe, N-lobe, and the interdomain helix that enable the conformation change. The forces driving this conformational change are discussed.
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