The acidic L7/L12 (prokaryotes) and P1/P2 (eukaryotes) proteins are the only ribosomal components that occur in more than one, specifically four, copies in the translational machinery. These ribosomal proteins are the only ones that do not directly interact with ribosomal RNA but bind to the particles via a protein, L10 and P0, respectively. They constitute a morphologically distinct feature on the large subunit, the stalk protuberance. Since a long time proteins L7/L12 have been implicated in translation factor binding and in the stimulation of the factor-dependent GTP-hydrolysis. Recent studies reproduced such activities with the isolated components and L7/L12 can therefore in retrospect be regarded as the first GTPase activating proteins identified. GTP-hydrolysis induces a drastic conformational change in elongation factor (EF) Tu, which enables it to dissociate from the ribosome after having successfully delivered aminoacylated tRNA into the A-site. It is also used as a driving force for translocation, mediated by EF-G. The in vitro stimulation of translation-uncoupled EF-G-dependent GTP-hydrolysis seems to be an intrinsic property of the ribosome that is dependent on L7/L12, reaches a maximum with four copies of the proteins per particle, and reflects the in vivo hydrolysis rate during translation. It is much larger than the analogous activity observed for EF-Tu, which is correlated with the in vitro polypeptide synthesis rate. Therefore, at least certain stimulatory activities of L7/L12 are controlled by the ribosomal environment, which in the case of EF-Tu senses the successful codon-anticodon pairing. Present knowledge is consistent with a picture in which proteins L7/L12 constitute a "landing platform" for the factors and after rearrangements induce GTP-hydrolysis. The molecular mechanism of the GTPase activation is unknown. While sequence comparisons show a large diversity in the stalk proteins across the kingdoms, a conserved functional domain organization and conserved designs of their genetic units are discernible. Consistently, stalk transplantation experiments suggest that coevolution took place to maintain functional L7/L12 EF-G and P-protein EF-2 couples. The acidic proteins are organized into three distinct functional parts: An N-terminal domain is responsible for oligomerization and ribosome association, a C-terminal domain is implicated in translation factor interactions, and a hinge region allows a flexible relative orientation of the latter two portions. The bacterial L7/L12 proteins have long been portrayed as highly elongated dimers displaying globular C-terminal domains, helical N-termini, and unstructured hinges. Conversely, recent crystal structures depict a compact hetero-tetrameric assembly with the hinge region adopting either an alpha-helical or an open conformation. Two different dimerization modes can be discerned in these structures. Models suggest that dimerization via one association mode can lead to elongated dimeric complexes with one helical and one unstructured hinge. The physiological role of the other dimerization mode is unclear and is in apparent contradiction to distances measured by fluorescence resonance energy transfer. The discrepancies between the crystal structures and results from other physico-chemical methods may partly be a consequence of the dynamic functions of the proteins, necessitating a high flexibility.
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