PAS domains: internal sensors of oxygen, redox potential, and light


PAS domains are newly recognized signaling domains that are widely distributed in proteins from members of the Archaea and Bacteria and from fungi, plants, insects, and vertebrates. They function as input modules in proteins that sense oxygen, redox potential, light, and some other stimuli. Specificity in sensing arises, in part, from different cofactors that may be associated with the PAS fold. Transduction of redox signals may be a common mechanistic theme in many different PAS domains. PAS proteins are always located intracellularly but may monitor the external as well as the internal environment. One way in which prokaryotic PAS proteins sense the environment is by detecting changes in the electron transport system. This serves as an early warning system for any reduction in cellular energy levels. Human PAS proteins include hypoxia-inducible factors and voltage-sensitive ion channels; other PAS proteins are integral components of circadian clocks. Although PAS domains were only recently identified, the signaling functions with which they are associated have long been recognized as fundamental properties of living cells.