All-trans retinoic acid displaces the binding of radiolabelled calmodulin to human erythrocyte membranes, and inhibits the activity of plasma membrane Ca(2+)-stimulated, Mg(2+)-dependent ATPase (Ca(2+)-ATPase; EC 3.6.1.3). This enzyme is dependent upon the action of calmodulin. In this study we explored the structural attributes of the retinoids which confer this ability to inhibit enzyme activity and calmodulin binding. With respect to the fatty acid side-chain, a clear requirement for inhibition is a trans-configuration of the polar end-group. The importance of the ring structure is indicated by the ineffectiveness of polyprenoic acid and a benzene ring retinoid analogue as inhibitors of enzyme activity and calmodulin binding. There was good correlation between the relative potencies of the analogues as enzyme inhibitors and as inhibitors of calmodulin binding. The ability of selected retinoid analogues, at physiological concentrations with respect to all-trans retinoic acid, to inhibit erythrocyte Ca(2+)-ATPase activity and membrane binding of calmodulin underscores the structurally specific effects of these compounds on the interaction of calmodulin with the membrane-bound enzyme.

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