Common mechanisms of catalysis in small and heterotrimeric GTPases and their respective GAPs
GTPases are central switches in cells. Their dysfunctions are involved in severe diseases. The small GTPase Ras regulates cell growth, differentiation and apoptosis by transmitting external signals to the nucleus. In one group of oncogenic mutations, the ‘switch-off’ reaction is inhibited, leading to persistent activation of the signaling pathway. The switch reaction is regulated by GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs), which catalyze GTP hydrolysis in Ras, and by guanine nucleotide exchange factors, which catalyze the exchange of GDP for GTP. Heterotrimeric G-proteins are activated by G-protein coupled receptors and are inactivated by GTP hydrolysis in the Gα subunit. Their GAPs are called regulators of G-protein signaling. In the same way that Ras serves as a prototype for small GTPases, Gαi1 is the most well-studied Gα subunit. By utilizing X-ray structural models, time-resolved infrared-difference spectroscopy, and biomolecular simulations, we elucidated the detailed molecular reaction mechanism of the GTP hydrolysis in Ras and Gαi1. In both proteins, the charge distribution of GTP is driven towards the transition state, and an arginine is precisely positioned to facilitate nucleophilic attack of water. In addition to these mechanistic details of GTP hydrolysis, Ras dimerization as an emerging factor in signal transduction is discussed in this review.