Characterisation of sequence–structure–function space in sensor–effector integrators of phytochrome-regulated diguanylate cyclases

Cornelia Böhm, Geoffrey Gourinchas, Sophie Zweytick, Elvira Hujdur, Martina Reiter, Sara Trstenjak, Christoph Wilhelm Sensen, Andreas Winkler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the relationship between protein sequence, structure and function is one of the fundamental challenges in biochemistry. A direct correlation, however, is often not trivial since protein dynamics also play an important functional role—especially in signal transduction processes. In a subfamily of bacterial light sensors, phytochrome-activated diguanylate cyclases (PadCs), a characteristic coiled-coil linker element connects photoreceptor and output module, playing an essential role in signal integration. Combining phylogenetic analyses with biochemical characterisations, we were able to show that length and composition of this linker determine sensor–effector function and as such are under considerable evolutionary pressure. The linker length, together with the upstream PHY-specific domain, influences the dynamic range of effector activation and can even cause light-induced enzyme inhibition. We demonstrate phylogenetic clustering according to linker length, and the development of new linker lengths as well as new protein function within linker families. The biochemical characterisation of PadC homologs revealed that the functional coupling of PHY dimer interface and linker element defines signal integration and regulation of output functionality. A small subfamily of PadCs, characterised by a linker length breaking the coiled-coil pattern, shows a markedly different behaviour from other homologs. The effect of the central helical spine on PadC function highlights its essential role in signal integration as well as direct regulation of diguanylate cyclase activity. Appreciation of sensor–effector linkers as integrator elements and their coevolution with sensory modules is a further step towards the use of functionally diverse homologs as building blocks for rationally designed optogenetic tools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1761-1779
Number of pages19
JournalPhotochemical & Photobiological Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • bacteriophytochrome
  • diguanylate cyclase
  • photoreceptor
  • phylogeny
  • Signal transduction
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Coiled-coil linker
  • Photoreceptor
  • Sequence similarity network
  • Bacteriophytochrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology


  • BioTechMed-Graz


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