Exosomes are bioactive vesicles released from multivesicular bodies by intact cells and participate in intercellular signalling. We investigated the presence of lipid-related proteins and bioactive lipids in RBL-2H3 exosomes. Besides a phospholipid scramblase and a Fatty Acid Binding Protein, the exosomes contained the whole set of phospholipases (A2, C and D) together with interacting proteins such as aldolase A and Hsp 70. They also contained the PLD / PAP1 pathway leading to the formation of diglycerides. RBL-2H3 exosomes also carried members of the three phospholipase A2 classes, i.e. the calcium-dependent cPLA2-IVA, the calcium-independent iPLA2-VIA and the secreted sPLA2-IIA and V. Remarkably, almost all members of the Ras GTPase superfamily were present, and incubation of exosomes with GTPgammaS triggered activation of PLA2s and PLD2. A large panel of free fatty acids, including arachidonic acid, and derivatives such as prostaglandin E2 and 15-deoxy-Delta12,14-prostaglandinJ2 were detected. We observed that the exosomes were internalized by resting and activated RBLcells, and that they accumulated in an endosomal compartment. Endosomal concentrations were in the micromolar range for prostaglandins, i.e. concentrations able to trigger prostaglandin-dependent biological responses. Therefore exosomes are carriers of GTP-activatable phospholipases and lipid mediators from cell to cell.
Crystallography supplies unparalleled detail on structural information critical for mechanistic analyses; however, it is restricted to describing low energy conformations of macromolecules within crystal lattices. Small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) offers complementary information about macromolecular folding, unfolding, aggregation, extended conformations, flexibly linked domains, shape, conformation, and assembly state in solution, albeit at the lower resolution range of about 50 A to 10 A resolution, but without the size limitations inherent in NMR and electron microscopy studies. Together these techniques can allow multi-scale modeling to create complete and accurate images of macromolecules for modeling allosteric mechanisms, supramolecular complexes, and dynamic molecular machines acting in diverse processes ranging from eukaryotic DNA replication, recombination and repair to microbial membrane secretion and assembly systems. This review addresses both theoretical and practical concepts, concerns and considerations for using these techniques in conjunction with computational methods to productively combine solution scattering data with high-resolution structures. Detailed aspects of SAXS experimental results are considered with a focus on data interpretation tools suitable to model protein and nucleic acid macromolecular structures, including membrane protein, RNA, DNA, and protein-nucleic acid complexes. The methods discussed provide the basis to examine molecular interactions in solution and to study macromolecular flexibility and conformational changes that have become increasingly relevant for accurate understanding, simulation, and prediction of mechanisms in structural cell biology and nanotechnology.
Phosphoryl transfer plays key roles in signaling, energy transduction, protein synthesis, and maintaining the integrity of the genetic material. On the surface, it would appear to be a simple nucleophile displacement reaction. However, this simplicity is deceptive, as, even in aqueous solution, the low-lying d-orbitals on the phosphorus atom allow for eight distinct mechanistic possibilities, before even introducing the complexities of the enzyme catalyzed reactions. To further complicate matters, while powerful, traditional experimental techniques such as the use of linear free-energy relationships (LFER) or measuring isotope effects cannot make unique distinctions between different potential mechanisms. A quarter of a century has passed since Westheimer wrote his seminal review, 'Why Nature Chose Phosphate' (Science 235 (1987), 1173), and a lot has changed in the field since then. The present review revisits this biologically crucial issue, exploring both relevant enzymatic systems as well as the corresponding chemistry in aqueous solution, and demonstrating that the only way key questions in this field are likely to be resolved is through careful theoretical studies (which of course should be able to reproduce all relevant experimental data). Finally, we demonstrate that the reason that nature really chose phosphate is due to interplay between two counteracting effects : on the one hand, phosphates are negatively charged and the resulting charge-charge repulsion with the attacking nucleophile contributes to the very high barrier for hydrolysis, making phosphate esters among the most inert compounds known. However, biology is not only about reducing the barrier to unfavorable chemical reactions. That is, the same charge-charge repulsion that makes phosphate ester hydrolysis so unfavorable also makes it possible to regulate, by exploiting the electrostatics. This means that phosphate ester hydrolysis can not only be turned on, but also be turned off, by fine tuning the electrostatic environment and the present review demonstrates numerous examples where this is the case. Without this capacity for regulation, it would be impossible to have for instance a signaling or metabolic cascade, where the action of each participant is determined by the fine-tuned activity of the previous piece in the production line. This makes phosphate esters the ideal compounds to facilitate life as we know it.
Nucleases cleave the phosphodiester bonds of nucleic acids and may be endo or exo, DNase or RNase, topoisomerases, recombinases, ribozymes, or RNA splicing enzymes. In this review, 1 survey nuclease activities with known structures and catalytic machinery and classify them by reaction mechanism and metal-ion dependence and by their biological function ranging from DNA replication, recombination, repair, RNA maturation, processing, interference, to defense, nutrient regeneration or cell death. Several general principles emerge from this analysis. There is little correlation between catalytic mechanism and biological function. A single catalytic mechanism can be adapted in a variety of reactions and biological pathways. Conversely, a single biological process can often be accomplished by multiple tertiary and quaternary folds and by more than one catalytic mechanism. Two-metal-ion-dependent nucleases comprise the largest number of different tertiary folds and mediate the most diverse set of biological functions. Metal-ion-dependent cleavage is exclusively associated with exonucleases producing mononucleotides and endonucleases that cleave double- or single-stranded substrates in helical and base-stacked conformations. All metal-ion-independent RNases generate 2',3'-cyclic phosphate products, and all metal-ion-independent DNases form phospho-protein intermediates. I also find several previously unnoted relationships between different nucleases and shared catalytic configurations.
Biomolecules are the prime information processing elements of living matter. Most of these inanimate systems are polymers that compute their own structures and dynamics using as input seemingly random character strings of their sequence, following which they coalesce and perform integrated cellular functions. In large computational systems with finite interaction-codes, the appearance of conflicting goals is inevitable. Simple conflicting forces can lead to quite complex structures and behaviors, leading to the concept of frustration in condensed matter. We present here some basic ideas about frustration in biomolecules and how the frustration concept leads to a better appreciation of many aspects of the architecture of biomolecules, and especially how biomolecular structure connects to function by means of localized frustration. These ideas are simultaneously both seductively simple and perilously subtle to grasp completely. The energy landscape theory of protein folding provides a framework for quantifying frustration in large systems and has been implemented at many levels of description. We first review the notion of frustration from the areas of abstract logic and its uses in simple condensed matter systems. We discuss then how the frustration concept applies specifically to heteropolymers, testing folding landscape theory in computer simulations of protein models and in experimentally accessible systems. Studying the aspects of frustration averaged over many proteins provides ways to infer energy functions useful for reliable structure prediction. We discuss how frustration affects folding mechanisms. We review here how the biological functions of proteins are related to subtle local physical frustration effects and how frustration influences the appearance of metastable states, the nature of binding processes, catalysis and allosteric transitions. In this review, we also emphasize that frustration, far from being always a bad thing, is an essential feature of biomolecules that allows dynamics to be harnessed for function. In this way, we hope to illustrate how Frustration is a fundamental concept in
Cys-loop receptors are membrane-spanning neurotransmitter-gated ion channels that are responsible for fast excitatory and inhibitory transmission in the peripheral and central nervous systems. The best studied members of the Cys-loop family are nACh, 5-HT3, GABA(A) and glycine receptors. All these receptors share a common structure of five subunits, pseudo-symmetrically arranged to form a rosette with a central ion-conducting pore. Some are cation selective (e.g. nACh and 5-HT3) and some are anion selective (e.g. GABA(A) and glycine). Each receptor has an extracellular domain (ECD) that contains the ligand-binding sites, a transmembrane domain (TMD) that allows ions to pass across the membrane, and an intracellular domain (ICD) that plays a role in channel conductance and receptor modulation. Cys-loop receptors are the targets for many currently used clinically relevant drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines and anaesthetics). Understanding the molecular mechanisms of these receptors could therefore provide the catalyst for further development in this field, as well as promoting the development of experimental techniques for other areas of neuroscience. In this review, we present our current understanding of Cys-loop receptor structure and function. The ECD has been extensively studied. Research in this area has been stimulated in recent years by the publication of high-resolution structures of nACh receptors and related proteins, which have permitted the creation of many Cys loop receptor homology models of this region. Here, using the 5-HT3 receptor as a typical member of the family, we describe how homology modelling and ligand docking can provide useful but not definitive information about ligand interactions. We briefly consider some of the many Cys-loop receptors modulators. We discuss the current understanding of the structure of the TMD, and how this links to the ECD to allow channel gating, and consider the roles of the ICD, whose structure is poorly understood. We also describe some of the current methods that are beginning to reveal the differences between different receptor states, and may ultimately show structural details of transitions between them.
Myriad biological processes proceed through states that defy characterization by conventional atomic-resolution structural biological methods. The invisibility of these 'dark' states can arise from their transient nature, low equilibrium population, large molecular weight, and/or heterogeneity. Although they are invisible, these dark states underlie a range of processes, acting as encounter complexes between proteins and as intermediates in protein folding and aggregation. New methods have made these states accessible to high-resolution analysis by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, as long as the dark state is in dynamic equilibrium with an NMR-visible species. These methods - paramagnetic NMR, relaxation dispersion, saturation transfer, lifetime line broadening, and hydrogen exchange - allow the exploration of otherwise invisible states in exchange with a visible species over a range of timescales, each taking advantage of some unique property of the dark state to amplify its effect on a particular NMR observable. In this review, we introduce these methods and explore two specific techniques - paramagnetic relaxation enhancement and dark state exchange saturation transfer - in greater detail.
The breakthroughs in single molecule spectroscopy of the last decade and the recent advances in super resolution microscopy have boosted the popularity of cyanine dyes in biophysical research. These applications have motivated the investigation of the reactions and relaxation processes that cyanines undergo in their electronically excited states. Studies show that the triplet state is a key intermediate in the photochemical reactions that limit the photostability of cyanine dyes. The removal of oxygen greatly reduces photobleaching, but induces rapid intensity fluctuations (blinking). The existence of non-fluorescent states lasting from milliseconds to seconds was early identified as a limitation in single-molecule spectroscopy and a potential source of artifacts. Recent studies demonstrate that a combination of oxidizing and reducing agents is the most efficient way of guaranteeing that the ground state is recovered rapidly and efficiently. Thiol-containing reducing agents have been identified as the source of long-lived dark states in some cyanines that can be photochemically switched back to the emissive state. The mechanism of this process is the reversible addition of the thiol-containing compound to a double bond in the polymethine chain resulting in a non-fluorescent molecule. This process can be reverted by irradiation at shorter wavelengths. Another mechanism that leads to non-fluorescent states in cyanine dyes is cis trans isomerization from the singlet-excited state. This process, which competes with fluorescence, involves the rotation of one-half of the molecule with respect to the other with an efficiency that depends strongly on steric effects. The efficiency of fluorescence of most cyanine dyes has been shown to depend dramatically on their molecular environment within the biomolecule. For example, the fluorescence quantum yield of Cy3 linked covalently to DNA depends on the type of linkage used for attachment, DNA sequence and secondary structure. Cyanines linked to the DNA termini have been shown to be mostly stacked at the end of the helix, while cyanines linked to the DNA internally are believed to partially bind to the minor or major grooves. These interactions not only affect the photophysical properties of the probes but also create a large uncertainty in their orientation.
The use of fluorescent nucleic acid base analogues is becoming increasingly important in the fields of biology, biochemistry and biophysical chemistry as well as in the field of DNA nanotechnology. The advantage of being able to incorporate a fluorescent probe molecule close to the site of examination in the nucleic acid-containing system of interest with merely a minimal perturbation to the natural structure makes fluorescent base analogues highly attractive. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in developing novel candidates in this group of fluorophores for utilization in various investigations. This review describes the different classes of fluorophores that can be used for studying nucleic acid-containing systems, with an emphasis on choosing the right kind of probe for the system under investigation. It describes the characteristics of the large group of base analogues that has an emission that is sensitive to the surrounding microenvironment and gives examples of investigations in which this group of molecules has been used so far. Furthermore, the characterization and use of fluorescent base analogues that are virtually insensitive to changes in their microenvironment are described in detail. This group of base analogues can be used in several fluorescence investigations of nucleic acids, especially in fluorescence anisotropy and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) measurements. Finally, the development and characterization of the first nucleic base analogue FRET pair, tC(O)-tC(nitro), and its possible future uses are discussed.
The majority of studies of the living cell rely on capturing images using fluorescence microscopy. Unfortunately, for centuries, diffraction of light was limiting the spatial resolution in the optical microscope: structural and molecular details much finer than about half the wavelength of visible light (similar to 200nm) could not be visualized, imposing significant limitations on this otherwise so promising method. The surpassing of this resolution limit in far-field microscopy is currently one of the most momentous developments for studying the living cell, as the move from microscopy to super-resolution microscopy or "nanoscopy' offers opportunities to study problems in biophysical and biomedical research at a new level of detail. This review describes the principles and modalities of present fluorescence nanoscopes, as well as their potential for biophysical and cellular experiments. All the existing nanoscopy variants separate neighboring features by transiently preparing their fluorescent molecules in states of different emission characteristics in order to make the features discernible. Usually these are fluorescent 'on' and 'off' states causing the adjacent molecules to emit sequentially in time. Each of the variants can in principle reach molecular spatial resolution and has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some require specific transitions and states that can be found only in certain fluorophore subfamilies, such as photoswitchable fluorophores, while other variants can be realized with standard fluorescent labels. Similar to conventional far-field microscopy, nanoscopy can be utilized for dynamical, multi-color and three-dimensional imaging of fixed and live cells, tissues or organisms. Lens-based fluorescence nanoscopy is poised for a high impact on future developments in the life sciences, with the potential to help solve long-standing quests in different areas of scientific research.
The sarcoplasmic (SERCA 1a) Ca2+-ATPase is a membrane protein abundantly present in skeletal mucles where it functions as an indispensable component of the excitation-contraction coupling, being at the expense of ATP hydrolysis involved in Ca2+/H+ exchange with a high thermodynamic efficiency across the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane. The transporter serves as a prototype of a whole family of cation transporters, the P-type ATPases, which in addition to Ca2+ transporting proteins count Na+, K+-ATPase and H+, K+-, proton-and heavy metal transporting ATPases as prominent members. The ability in recent years to produce and analyze at atomic (2.3-3 angstrom) resolution 3D-crystals of Ca2+-transport intermediates of SERCA 1a has meant a breakthrough in our understanding of the structural aspects of the transport mechanism. We describe here the detailed construction of the ATPase in terms of one membraneous and three cytosolic domains held together by a central core that mediates coupling between Ca2+-transport and ATP hydrolysis. During turnover, the pump is present in two different conformational states, E1 and E2, with a preference for the binding of Ca2+ and H+, respectively. We discuss how phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated forms of these conformational states with cytosolic, occluded or luminally exposed cation-binding sites are able to convert the chemical energy derived from ATP hydrolysis into an electrochemical gradient of Ca2+ across the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane. In conjunction with these basic reactions which serve as a structural framework for the transport function of other P-type ATPases as well, we also review the role of the lipid phase and the regulatory and thermodynamic aspects of the transport mechanism.
DNA topoisomerases are a diverse set of essential enzymes responsible for maintaining chromosomes in an appropriate topological state. Although they vary considerably in structure and mechanism, the partner-ship between topoisomerases and DNA has engendered commonalities in how these enzymes engage nucleic acid substrates and control DNA strand manipulations. All topoisomerases can harness the free energy stored in supercoiled DNA to drive their reactions; some further use the energy of ATP to alter the topology of DNA away from an enzyme-free equilibrium ground state. In the cell, topoisomerases regulate DNA supercoiling and unlink tangled nucleic acid strands to actively maintain chromosomes in a topological state commensurate with particular replicative and transcriptional needs. To carry out these reactions, topoisomerases rely on dynamic macromolecular contacts that alternate between associated and dissociated states throughout the catalytic cycle. In this review, we describe how structural and biochemical studies have furthered our understanding of DNA topoisomerases, with an emphasis on how these complex molecular machines use interfacial interactions to harness and constrain the energy required to manage DNA topology.
Elucidating the detailed process of ligand binding to a receptor is pharmaceutically important for identifying druggable binding sites. With the ability to provide atomistic detail, computational methods are well poised to study these processes. Here, accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD) is proposed to simulate processes of ligand binding to a G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), in this case the M3 muscarinic receptor, which is a target for treating many human diseases, including cancer, diabetes and obesity. Long-timescale aMD simulations were performed to observe the binding of three chemically diverse ligand molecules: antagonist tiotropium (TTP), partial agonist arecoline (ARc) and full agonist acetylcholine (ACh). In comparison with earlier microsecond-timescale conventional MD simulations, aMD greatly accelerated the binding of ACh to the receptor orthosteric ligand-binding site and the binding of TTP to an extracellular vestibule. Further aMD simulations also captured binding of ARc to the receptor orthosteric site. Additionally, all three ligands were observed to bind in the extracellular vestibule during their binding pathways, suggesting that it is a metastable binding site. This study demonstrates the applicability of aMD to protein-ligand binding, especially the drug recognition of GPCRs.
The ubiquitous molecular chaperone Hsp90 makes up 1-2% of cytosolic proteins and is required for viability in eukaryotes. Hsp90 affects the folding and activation of a wide variety of substrate proteins including many involved in signaling and regulatory processes. Some of these substrates are implicated in cancer and other diseases, making Hsp90 an attractive drug target. Structural analyses have shown that Hsp90 is a highly dynamic and flexible molecule that can adopt a wide variety of structurally distinct states. One driving force for these rearrangements is the intrinsic ATPase activity of Hsp90, as seen with other chaperones. However, unlike other chaperones, studies have shown that the ATPase cycle of Hsp90 is not conformationally deterministic. That is, rather than dictating the conformational state, ATP binding and hydrolysis only shift the equilibria between a pre-existing set of conformational states. For bacterial, yeast and human Hsp90, there is a conserved three-state (apo-ATP-ADP) conformational cycle; however; the equilibria between states are species specific. In eukaryotes, cytosolic co-chaperones regulate the in vivo dynamic behavior of Hsp90 by shifting conformational equilibria and affecting the kinetics of structural changes and ATP hydrolysis. In this review, we discuss the structural and biochemical studies leading to our current understanding of the conformational dynamics of Hsp90, as well as the roles that nucleotide, co-chaperones, post-translational modification and substrates play. This view of Hsp90's conformational dynamics was enabled by the use of multiple complementary structural methods including, crystallography, small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), electron microscopy, Forster resonance energy transfer (FRET) and NMR. Finally, we discuss the effects of Hsp90 inhibitors on conformation and the potential for developing small molecules that inhibit Hsp90 by disrupting the conformational dynamics.
Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy provides a variety of tools to study structures and structural changes of large biomolecules or complexes thereof In order to unravel secondary structure elements, domain arrangements or complex formation, continuous wave and pulsed EPR methods capable of measuring the magnetic dipole coupling between two unpaired electrons can be used to obtain long-range distance constraints on the nanometer scale. Such methods yield reliably and precisely distances of up to 80 angstrom, can be applied to biomolecules in aqueous buffer solutions or membranes, and are not size limited. They can be applied either at cryogenic or physiological temperatures and down to amounts of a few nanomoles. Spin centers may be metal ions, metal clusters, cofactor radicals, amino acid radicals, or spin labels. In this review, we discuss the advantages and limitations of the different EPR spectroscopic methods, briefly describe their theoretical background, and summarize important biological applications. The main focus of this article will be on pulsed EPR methods like pulsed electron-electron double resonance (PELDOR) and their applications to spin-labeled biosystems.
There has been enormous progress during the last few years in the determination of three-dimensional biological structures by single particle electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM), allowing maps to be obtained with higher resolution and from fewer images than required previously. This is due principally to the introduction of a new type of direct electron detector that has 2-to 3-fold higher detective quantum efficiency than available previously, and to the improvement of the computational algorithms for image processing. In spite of the great strides that have been made, quantitative analysis shows that there are still significant gains to be made provided that the problems associated with image degradation can be solved, possibly by minimising beam-induced specimen movement and charge build up during imaging. If this can be achieved, it should be possible to obtain near atomic resolution structures of smaller single particles, using fewer images and resolving more conformational states than at present, thus realising the full potential of the method. The recent popularity of cryoEM for molecular structure determination also highlights the need for lower cost microscopes, so we encourage development of an inexpensive, 100 keV electron cryomicroscope with a high-brightness field emission gun to make the method accessible to individual groups or institutions that cannot afford the investment and running costs of a state-of-the-art 300 keV installation. A key requisite for successful high-resolution structure determination by cryoEM includes interpretation of images and optimising the biochemistry and grid preparation to obtain nicely distributed macromolecules of interest. We thus include in this review a gallery of cryoEM micrographs that shows illustrative examples of single particle images of large and small macromolecular complexes.
Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, we have studied the synthesis of isoquinoline in a charged electrospray droplet and the complexation between cytochrome c and maltose in a fused droplet to investigate the feasibility of droplets to drive reactions (both covalent and noncovalent interactions) at a faster rate than that observed in conventional bulk solution. In both the cases we found marked acceleration of reaction, by a factor of a million or more in the former and a factor of a thousand or more in the latter. We believe that carrying out reactions in microdroplets (about 1-15 mu m in diameter corresponding to 0.5 pl - 2 nl) is a general method for increasing reaction rates. The mechanism is not presently established but droplet evaporation and droplet confinement of reagents appear to be two important factors among others. In the case of fused water droplets, evaporation has been shown to be almost negligible during the flight time from where droplet fusion occurs and the droplets enter the heated capillary inlet of the mass spectrometer. This suggests that (1) evaporation is not responsible for the acceleration process in aqueous droplet fusion and (2) the droplet-air interface may play a significant role in accelerating the reaction. We argue that this microdroplet chemistry' could be a remarkable alternative to accelerate slow and difficult reactions, and in conjunction with mass spectrometry, it may provide a new arena to study chemical and biochemical reactions in a confined environment.
Protein kinases catalyse key phosphorylation reactions in signalling cascades that affect every aspect of cell growth, differentiation and metabolism. The kinases have become prime targets for drug intervention in the diseased state, especially in cancer. There are currently 10 drugs that have been approved for clinical use and many more in clinical trials. This review summarises the structural basis for protein kinase inhibition and discusses the mode of action for each of the approved drugs in the light of structural results. All but one of the approved compounds tar-get the ATIP binding site on the kinase. Both the active and inactive conformations of protein kinases have been used in strategies to produce potent and selective compounds. Targeting the inactive conformation can give high specificity. Targeting the active conformation is favourable where the diseased state has arisen from activating mutations, but such inhibitors generally target several protein kinases. Drug resistance mutations are a potential risk for both conformational states, where drug-binding regions are not directly involved in catalysis. Imatinib (Glivec), the most successful of protein kinase inhibitors, targets the inactive conformation of ABL tyrosine kinase, Newer compounds, such as dasatinib, which targets the ABL active state, have been developed to increase potency and have proved effective for some. but not all, drug-resistant mutations. The first epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors in clinical use [gefitinib (Iressa) and erlotinib (Tarceva)] targeted the active form of the kinase, and this proved advantageous for patients whose cancer was caused by mutations that resulted in a constitutively active EGFR kinase domain. Newer approved compounds, such as lapatinib (Tykerb), target the inactive conformation with high potency. A further compound that forms a covalent attachment to the kinase has been found to overcome one of the major drug resistance mutations, where the effectiveness of the drug in vivo is dependent on its ability to compete successfully in the presence of cellular concentrations of ATP. Inhibitors of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) kinase against cancer angiogenesis show the advantage of some relaxation in specificity. Sorafenib, originally developed as RAF inhibitor, is now in clinical use as a VEGFR inhibitor. Temsirolimus (a derivative of rapamycin) is the only example of a drug in clinical use that does not target the kinase ATP site, Instead rapamycin, when in complex with the protein FKBP12, effectively targets mTOR kinase at a site located on a domain, the FRB domain. that appears to be involved in localisation or substrate docking.
Proteins provide much of the scaffolding for life, as well as undertaking a variety of essential catalytic reactions. These characteristic functions have led us to presuppose that proteins are in general functional only when well structured and correctly folded. As we begin to explore the repertoire of possible protein sequences inherent in the human and other genomes, two stark facts that belie this supposition become clear : firstly, the number of apparent open reading frames in the human genome is significantly smaller than appears to be necessary to code for all of the diverse proteins in higher organisms, and secondly that a significant proportion of the protein sequences that would be coded by the genome would not be expected to form stable three-dimensional (3D) structures. Clearly the genome must include coding for a multitude of alternative forms of proteins, some of which may be partly or fully disordered or incompletely structured in their functional states. At the same time as this likelihood was recognized, experimental studies also began to uncover examples of important protein molecules and domains that were incompletely structured or completely disordered in solution, yet remained perfectly functional. In the ensuing years, we have seen an explosion of experimental and genome-annotation studies that have mapped the extent of the intrinsic disorder phenomenon and explored the possible biological rationales for its widespread occurrence. Answers to the question 'why would a particular domain need to be unstructured?' are as varied as the systems where such domains are found. This review provides a survey of recent new directions in this field, and includes an evaluation of the role not only of intrinsically disordered proteins but also of partially structured and highly dynamic members of the disorder-order continuum.