Ras-like small GTP binding proteins regulate a wide variety of intracellular signalling and vesicular trafficking pathways in eukaryotic cells including plant cells. They share a common structure that operates as a molecular switch by cycling between active GTP-bound and inactive GDP-bound conformational states. The active GTP-bound state is regulated by guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEF), which promote the exchange of GDP for GTP. The inactive GDP-bound state is promoted by GTPase-activating proteins (GAPs) which accelerate GTP hydrolysis by orders of magnitude. Two types of small GTP-binding proteins, ADP-ribosylation factor (Arf) and secretion-associated and Ras-related (Sar), are major regulators of vesicle biogenesis in intracellular traffic and are founding members of a growing family that also includes Arf-related proteins (Arp) and Arf-like (Arl) proteins. The most widely involved small GTPase in vesicular trafficking is probably Arf1, which not only controls assembly of COPI- and AP1, AP3, and AP4/clathrin-coated vesicles but also recruits other proteins to membranes, including some that may be components of further coats. Recent molecular, structural and biochemical studies have provided a wealth of detail of the interactions between Arf and the proteins that regulate its activity as well as providing clues for the types of effector molecules which are controlled by Arf. Sar1 functions as a molecular switch to control the assembly of protein coats (COPII) that direct vesicle budding from ER. The crystallographic analysis of Sar1 reveals a number of structurally unique features that dictate its function in COPII vesicle formation. In this review, I will summarize the current knowledge of Arf and Sar regulation in vesicular trafficking in mammalian and yeast cells and will highlight recent advances in identifying the elements involved in vesicle formation in plant cells. Additionally, I will briefly discuss the similarities and dissimilarities of vesicle traffic in plant, mammalian and yeast cells.
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