Ca2+ and Zn2+ dynamics have been identified as important drivers of physiological processes. In order for these dynamics to encode function, the cell must have sensors that transduce changes in metal concentration to specific downstream actions. Here we compare and contrast the native metal sensors: calmodulin (CaM), the quintessential Ca2+ sensor and metal-responsive transcription factor 1 (MTF1), a candidate Zn2+ sensor. While CaM recognizes and modulates the activity of hundreds of proteins through allosteric interactions, MTF1 recognizes a single DNA motif that is distributed throughout the genome regulating the transcription of many target genes. We examine how the different inorganic chemistries of these two metal ions may shape these different mechanisms transducing metal ion concentration into changing physiologic activity. In addition to native metal sensors, scientists have engineered sensors to spy on the dynamic changes of metals in cells. The inorganic chemistry of the metals shapes the possibilities in the design strategies of engineered sensors. We examine how different strategies to tune the affinities of engineered sensors mirror the strategies nature developed to sense both Ca2+ and Zn2+ in cells.

You do not currently have access to this content.