Protein Kinase A (PKA) is the major receptor for the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) secondary messenger in eukaryotes. cAMP binds to two tandem cAMP-binding domains (CBD-A and -B) within the regulatory subunit of PKA (R), unleashing the activity of the catalytic subunit (C). While CBD-A in RIα is required for PKA inhibition and activation, CBD-B functions as a “gatekeeper” domain that modulates the control exerted by CBD-A. Preliminary evidence suggests that CBD-B dynamics are critical for its gatekeeper function. To test this hypothesis, here we investigate by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) the two-domain construct RIα (91–379) in its apo, cAMP2, and C-bound forms. Our comparative NMR analyses lead to a double conformational selection model in which each apo CBD dynamically samples both active and inactive states independently of the adjacent CBD within a nearly degenerate free energy landscape. Such degeneracy is critical to explain the sensitivity of CBD-B to weak interactions with C and its high affinity for cAMP. Binding of cAMP eliminates this degeneracy, as it selectively stabilizes the active conformation within each CBD and inter-CBD contacts, which require both cAMP and W260. The latter is contributed by CBD-B and mediates capping of the cAMP bound to CBD-A. The inter-CBD interface is dispensable for intra-CBD conformational selection, but is indispensable for full activation of PKA as it occludes C-subunit recognition sites within CBD-A. In addition, the two structurally homologous cAMP-bound CBDs exhibit marked differences in their residual dynamics profiles, supporting the notion that conservation of structure does not necessarily imply conservation of dynamics.
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