The von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) cancer syndrome is associated with mutations in the VHL gene. The pVHL protein is involved in response to changes in oxygen availability as part of an E3-ligase that targets the Hypoxia-Inducible Factor for degradation. pVHL has a molten globule configuration with marginal thermodynamic stability. The cancer-associated mutations further destabilize it. The Drosophila homolog, dVHL, has relatively low sequence similarity to pVHL, and is also involved in regulating HIF1-α. Using in silico, in vitro and in vivo approaches we demonstrate high similarity between the structure and function of dVHL and pVHL. These proteins have a similar fold, secondary and tertiary structures, as well as thermodynamic stability. Key functional residues in dVHL are evolutionary conserved. This structural homology underlies functional similarity of both proteins, evident by their ability to bind their reciprocal partner proteins, and by the observation that transgenic pVHL can fully maintain normal dVHL-HIF1-a downstream pathways in flies. This novel transgenic Drosophila model is thus useful for studying the VHL syndrome, and for testing drug candidates to treat it.
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