Pleckstrin homology (PH) domains are small protein modules of around 120 amino acids found in many proteins involved in cell signalling, cytoskeletal rearrangement and other processes. Although several different protein ligands have been proposed for PH domains, their only clearly demonstrated physiological function to date is to bind membrane phosphoinositides. The PH domain from phospholipase C-δ1 binds specifically to PtdIns(4,5)P2 and its headgroup, and has become a valuable tool for studying cellular PtdIns(4,5)P2 functions. More recent developments have demonstrated that a subset of PH domains recognizes the products of agonist-stimulated phosphoinositide 3-kinases. Fusion of these PH domains to green fluorescent protein has allowed dramatic demonstrations of their independent ability to drive signal-dependent recruitment of their host proteins to the plasma membrane. We discuss the structural basis for this 3-phosphoinoistide recognition and the role that it plays in cellular signalling. PH domains that bind specifically to phosphoinositides comprise only a minority (perhaps 15%) of those known, raising questions as to the physiological role of the remaining 85% of PH domains. Most (if not all) PH domains bind weakly and non-specifically to phosphoinositides. Studies of dynamin-1 have indicated that oligomerization of its PH domain may be important in driving membrane association. We discuss the possibility that membrane targeting by PH domains with low affinity for phosphoinositides could be driven by alteration of their oligomeric state and thus the avidity of their membrane binding.

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