Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hot off the presses! Mar 29 PLoS Biol

The Mar 29 issue of the PLoS Biol is now up on Pubget (About PLoS Biol): if you're at a subscribing institution, just click the link in the latest link at the home page. (Note you'll only be able to get all the PDFs in the issue if your institution subscribes to Pubget.)

Latest Articles Include:

  • How Bird Necks Get Naked
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001029 (2011)
  • Finding Balance in Cortical Networks
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001035 (2011)
  • One Secret of Longevity: The Fatty Acid Pathway
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001030 (2011)
  • PezT: A Bacterial Suicide Gene
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001036 (2011)
  • Which Primates Recognize Themselves in Mirrors?
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001024 (2011)
  • Resolving Difficult Phylogenetic Questions: Why More Sequences Are Not Enough
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000602 (2011)
  • A Brief (If Insular) History of the Human Genome Project
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000601 (2011)
  • Regarding the Amazing Choreography of Clathrin Coats
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001037 (2011)
  • Ubiquitylation in ERAD: Reversing to Go Forward?
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001038 (2011)
  • Tailoring Science Outreach through E-Matching Using a Community-Based Participatory Approach
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001026 (2011)
  • Exceptional Diversity, Maintenance of Polymorphism, and Recent Directional Selection on the APL1 Malaria Resistance Genes of Anopheles gambiae
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000600 (2011)
    The three-gene APL1 locus encodes essential components of the mosquito immune defense against malaria parasites. APL1 was originally identified because it lies within a mapped QTL conferring the vector mosquito Anopheles gambiae natural resistance to the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, and APL1 genes have subsequently been shown to be involved in defense against several species of Plasmodium. Here, we examine molecular population genetic variation at the APL1 gene cluster in spatially and temporally diverse West African collections of A. gambiae. The locus is extremely polymorphic, showing evidence of adaptive evolutionary maintenance of genetic variation. We hypothesize that this variability aids in defense against genetically diverse pathogens, including Plasmodium. Variation at APL1 is highly structured across geographic and temporal subpopulations. In particular, diversity is exceptionally high during the rainy season, when malaria transmission rates! are at their peak. Much less allelic diversity is observed during the dry season when mosquito population sizes and malaria transmission rates are low. APL1 diversity is weakly stratified by the polymorphic 2La chromosomal inversion but is very strongly subdivided between the M and S "molecular forms." We find evidence that a recent selective sweep has occurred at the APL1 locus in M form mosquitoes only. The independently reported observation of a similar M-form restricted sweep at the Tep1 locus, whose product physically interacts with APL1C, suggests that epistatic selection may act on these two loci causing them to sweep coordinately.
  • A Simple Mechanism for Complex Social Behavior
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001039 (2011)
    The evolution of cooperation is a paradox because natural selection should favor exploitative individuals that avoid paying their fair share of any costs. Such conflict between the self-interests of cooperating individuals often results in the evolution of complex, opponent-specific, social strategies and counterstrategies. However, the genetic and biological mechanisms underlying complex social strategies, and therefore the evolution of cooperative behavior, are largely unknown. To address this dearth of empirical data, we combine mathematical modeling, molecular genetic, and developmental approaches to test whether variation in the production of and response to social signals is sufficient to generate the complex partner-specific social success seen in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Firstly, we find that the simple model of production of and response to social signals can generate the sort of apparent complex changes in social behavior seen in this syste! m, without the need for partner recognition. Secondly, measurements of signal production and response in a mutant with a change in a single gene that leads to a shift in social behavior provide support for this model. Finally, these simple measurements of social signaling can also explain complex patterns of variation in social behavior generated by the natural genetic diversity found in isolates collected from the wild. Our studies therefore demonstrate a novel and elegantly simple underlying mechanistic basis for natural variation in complex social strategies in D. discoideum. More generally, they suggest that simple rules governing interactions between individuals can be sufficient to generate a diverse array of outcomes that appear complex and unpredictable when those rules are unknown.
  • Host Defense against Viral Infection Involves Interferon Mediated Down-Regulation of Sterol Biosynthesis
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000598 (2011)
    Little is known about the protective role of inflammatory processes in modulating lipid metabolism in infection. Here we report an intimate link between the innate immune response to infection and regulation of the sterol metabolic network characterized by down-regulation of sterol biosynthesis by an interferon regulatory loop mechanism. In time-series experiments profiling genome-wide lipid-associated gene expression of macrophages, we show a selective and coordinated negative regulation of the complete sterol pathway upon viral infection or cytokine treatment with IFNγ or β but not TNF, IL1β, or IL6. Quantitative analysis at the protein level of selected sterol metabolic enzymes upon infection shows a similar level of suppression. Experimental testing of sterol metabolite levels using lipidomic-based measurements shows a reduction in metabolic output. On the basis of pharmacologic and RNAi inhibition of the sterol pathway we show augmented protection against viral! infection, and in combination with metabolite rescue experiments, we identify the requirement of the mevalonate-isoprenoid branch of the sterol metabolic network in the protective response upon statin or IFNβ treatment. Conditioned media experiments from infected cells support an involvement of secreted type 1 interferon(s) to be sufficient for reducing the sterol pathway upon infection. Moreover, we show that infection of primary macrophages containing a genetic knockout of the major type I interferon, IFNβ, leads to only a partial suppression of the sterol pathway, while genetic knockout of the receptor for all type I interferon family members, ifnar1, or associated signaling component, tyk2, completely abolishes the reduction of the sterol biosynthetic activity upon infection. Levels of the proteolytically cleaved nuclear forms of SREBP2, a key transcriptional regulator of sterol biosynthesis, are reduced upon infection and IFNβ treatment at both the protein and de n! ovo transcription level. The reduction in srebf2 gene transcri! ption upon infection and IFN treatment is also found to be strictly dependent on ifnar1. Altogether these results show that type 1 IFN signaling is both necessary and sufficient for reducing the sterol metabolic network activity upon infection, thereby linking the regulation of the sterol pathway with interferon anti-viral defense responses. These findings bring a new link between sterol metabolism and interferon antiviral response and support the idea of using host metabolic modifiers of innate immunity as a potential antiviral strategy.
  • Cryptic Patterning of Avian Skin Confers a Developmental Facility for Loss of Neck Feathering
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001028 (2011)
    Vertebrate skin is characterized by its patterned array of appendages, whether feathers, hairs, or scales. In avian skin the distribution of feathers occurs on two distinct spatial levels. Grouping of feathers within discrete tracts, with bare skin lying between the tracts, is termed the macropattern, while the smaller scale periodic spacing between individual feathers is referred to as the micropattern. The degree of integration between the patterning mechanisms that operate on these two scales during development and the mechanisms underlying the remarkable evolvability of skin macropatterns are unknown. A striking example of macropattern variation is the convergent loss of neck feathering in multiple species, a trait associated with heat tolerance in both wild and domestic birds. In chicken, a mutation called Naked neck is characterized by a reduction of body feathering and completely bare neck. Here we perform genetic fine mapping of the causative region and identif! y a large insertion associated with the Naked neck trait. A strong candidate gene in the critical interval, BMP12/GDF7, displays markedly elevated expression in Naked neck embryonic skin due to a cis-regulatory effect of the causative mutation. BMP family members inhibit embryonic feather formation by acting in a reaction-diffusion mechanism, and we find that selective production of retinoic acid by neck skin potentiates BMP signaling, making neck skin more sensitive than body skin to suppression of feather development. This selective production of retinoic acid by neck skin constitutes a cryptic pattern as its effects on feathering are not revealed until gross BMP levels are altered. This developmental modularity of neck and body skin allows simple quantitative changes in BMP levels to produce a sparsely feathered or bare neck while maintaining robust feather patterning on the body.
  • The Formation of the Bicoid Morphogen Gradient Requires Protein Movement from Anteriorly Localized mRNA
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000596 (2011)
    The Bicoid morphogen gradient directs the patterning of cell fates along the anterior-posterior axis of the syncytial Drosophila embryo and serves as a paradigm of morphogen-mediated patterning. The simplest models of gradient formation rely on constant protein synthesis and diffusion from anteriorly localized source mRNA, coupled with uniform protein degradation. However, currently such models cannot account for all known gradient characteristics. Recent work has proposed that bicoid mRNA spatial distribution is sufficient to produce the observed protein gradient, minimizing the role of protein transport. Here, we adapt a novel method of fluorescent in situ hybridization to quantify the global spatio-temporal dynamics of bicoid mRNA particles. We determine that >90% of all bicoid mRNA is continuously present within the anterior 20% of the embryo. bicoid mRNA distribution along the body axis remains nearly unchanged despite dynamic mRNA translocation from the embryo co! re to the cortex. To evaluate the impact of mRNA distribution on protein gradient dynamics, we provide detailed quantitative measurements of nuclear Bicoid levels during the formation of the protein gradient. We find that gradient establishment begins 45 minutes after fertilization and that the gradient requires about 50 minutes to reach peak levels. In numerical simulations of gradient formation, we find that incorporating the actual bicoid mRNA distribution yields a closer prediction of the observed protein dynamics compared to modeling protein production from a point source at the anterior pole. We conclude that the spatial distribution of bicoid mRNA contributes to, but cannot account for, protein gradient formation, and therefore that protein movement, either active or passive, is required for gradient formation.
  • EphrinB/EphB Signaling Controls Embryonic Germ Layer Separation by Contact-Induced Cell Detachment
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000597 (2011)
    Background The primordial organization of the metazoan body is achieved during gastrulation by the establishment of the germ layers. Adhesion differences between ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm cells could in principle be sufficient to maintain germ layer integrity and prevent intermixing. However, in organisms as diverse as fly, fish, or amphibian, the ectoderm-mesoderm boundary not only keeps these germ layers separated, but the ectoderm also serves as substratum for mesoderm migration, and the boundary must be compatible with repeated cell attachment and detachment.Principal Findings We show that localized detachment resulting from contact-induced signals at the boundary is at the core of ectoderm-mesoderm segregation. Cells alternate between adhesion and detachment, and detachment requires ephrinB/EphB signaling. Multiple ephrinB ligands and EphB receptors are expressed on each side of the boundary, and tissue separation depends on forward signaling across the boundary in both directions, involving partially redundant ligands and receptors and activation of Rac and RhoA.Conclusion This mechanism differs from a simple differential adhesion process of germ layer formation. Instead, it involves localized responses to signals exchanged at the tissue boundary and an attachment/detachment cycle which allows for cell migration across a cellular substratum.
  • A Role for Myosin VI in the Localization of Axonal Proteins
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001021 (2011)
    In neurons polarized trafficking of vesicle-bound membrane proteins gives rise to the distinct molecular composition and functional properties of axons and dendrites. Despite their central role in shaping neuronal form and function, surprisingly little is known about the molecular processes that mediate polarized targeting of neuronal proteins. Recently, the plus-end-directed motor Myosin Va was shown to play a critical role in targeting of transmembrane proteins to dendrites; however, the role of myosin motors in axonal targeting is unknown. Here we show that Myosin VI, a minus-end-directed motor, plays a vital role in the enrichment of proteins on the surface of axons. Engineering non-neuronal proteins to interact with Myosin VI causes them to become highly concentrated at the axonal surface in dissociated rat cortical neurons. Furthermore, disruption of either Myosin VI function or expression leads to aberrant dendritic localization of axonal proteins. Myosin VI med! iates the enrichment of proteins on the axonal surface at least in part by stimulating dendrite-specific endocytosis, a mechanism that has been shown to underlie the localization of many axonal proteins. In addition, a version of Channelrhodopsin 2 that was engineered to bind to Myosin VI is concentrated at the surface of the axon of cortical neurons in mice in vivo, suggesting that it could be a useful tool for probing circuit structure and function. Together, our results indicate that myosins help shape the polarized distributions of both axonal and dendritic proteins.
  • Membrane Potential-Dependent Modulation of Recurrent Inhibition in Rat Neocortex
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001032 (2011)
    Dynamic balance of excitation and inhibition is crucial for network stability and cortical processing, but it is unclear how this balance is achieved at different membrane potentials (Vm) of cortical neurons, as found during persistent activity or slow Vm oscillation. Here we report that a Vm-dependent modulation of recurrent inhibition between pyramidal cells (PCs) contributes to the excitation-inhibition balance. Whole-cell recording from paired layer-5 PCs in rat somatosensory cortical slices revealed that both the slow and the fast disynaptic IPSPs, presumably mediated by low-threshold spiking and fast spiking interneurons, respectively, were modulated by changes in presynaptic Vm. Somatic depolarization (>5 mV) of the presynaptic PC substantially increased the amplitude and shortened the onset latency of the slow disynaptic IPSPs in neighboring PCs, leading to a narrowed time window for EPSP integration. A similar increase in the amplitude of the fast disynaptic I! PSPs in response to presynaptic depolarization was also observed. Further paired recording from PCs and interneurons revealed that PC depolarization increases EPSP amplitude and thus elevates interneuronal firing and inhibition of neighboring PCs, a reflection of the analog mode of excitatory synaptic transmission between PCs and interneurons. Together, these results revealed an immediate Vm-dependent modulation of cortical inhibition, a key strategy through which the cortex dynamically maintains the balance of excitation and inhibition at different states of cortical activity.
  • Fatty Acid Desaturation Links Germ Cell Loss to Longevity Through NHR-80/HNF4 in C. elegans
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000599 (2011)
    Background Preventing germline stem cell proliferation extends lifespan in nematodes and flies. So far, studies on germline-longevity signaling have focused on daf-16/FOXO and daf-12/VDR. Here, we report on NHR-80/HNF4, a nuclear receptor that specifically mediates longevity induced by depletion of the germ line through a mechanism that implicates fatty acid monodesaturation.Methods and Findings nhr-80/HNF4 is induced in animals lacking a germ line and is specifically required for their extended longevity. Overexpressing nhr-80/HNF4 increases the lifespan of germline-less animals. This lifespan extension can occur in the absence of daf-16/FOXO but requires the presence of the nuclear receptor DAF-12/VDR. We show that the fatty acid desaturase, FAT-6/SCD1, is a key target of NHR-80/HNF4 and promotes germline-longevity by desaturating stearic acid to oleic acid (OA). We find that NHR-80/HNF4 and OA must work in concert to promote longevity.Conclusions Taken together, our data indicate that the NHR-80 pathway participates in the mechanism of longevity extension through depletion of the germ line. We identify fat-6 and OA as essential downstream elements although other targets must also be present. Thus, NHR-80 links fatty acid desaturation to lifespan extension through germline ablation in a daf-16/FOXO independent manner.
  • A Novel Mechanism of Programmed Cell Death in Bacteria by Toxin–Antitoxin Systems Corrupts Peptidoglycan Synthesis
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001033 (2011)
    Most genomes of bacteria contain toxin–antitoxin (TA) systems. These gene systems encode a toxic protein and its cognate antitoxin. Upon antitoxin degradation, the toxin induces cell stasis or death. TA systems have been linked with numerous functions, including growth modulation, genome maintenance, and stress response. Members of the epsilon/zeta TA family are found throughout the genomes of pathogenic bacteria and were shown not only to stabilize resistance plasmids but also to promote virulence. The broad distribution of epsilon/zeta systems implies that zeta toxins utilize a ubiquitous bacteriotoxic mechanism. However, whereas all other TA families known to date poison macromolecules involved in translation or replication, the target of zeta toxins remained inscrutable. We used in vivo techniques such as microscropy and permeability assays to show that pneumococcal zeta toxin PezT impairs cell wall synthesis and triggers autolysis in Escherichia coli. Subsequent! ly, we demonstrated in vitro that zeta toxins in general phosphorylate the ubiquitous peptidoglycan precursor uridine diphosphate-N-acetylglucosamine (UNAG) and that this activity is counteracted by binding of antitoxin. After identification of the product we verified the kinase activity in vivo by analyzing metabolite extracts of cells poisoned by PezT using high pressure liquid chromatograpy (HPLC). We further show that phosphorylated UNAG inhibitis MurA, the enzyme catalyzing the initial step in bacterial peptidoglycan biosynthesis. Additionally, we provide what is to our knowledge the first crystal structure of a zeta toxin bound to its substrate. We show that zeta toxins are novel kinases that poison bacteria through global inhibition of peptidoglycan synthesis. This provides a fundamental understanding of how epsilon/zeta TA systems stabilize mobile genetic elements. Additionally, our results imply a mechanism that connects activity of zeta toxin PezT to virulence of ! pneumococcal infections. Finally, we discuss how phosphorylate! d UNAG likely poisons additional pathways of bacterial cell wall synthesis, making it an attractive lead compound for development of new antibiotics.
  • A High Precision Survey of the Molecular Dynamics of Mammalian Clathrin-Mediated Endocytosis
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000604 (2011)
    Dual colour total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy is a powerful tool for decoding the molecular dynamics of clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME). Typically, the recruitment of a fluorescent protein–tagged endocytic protein was referenced to the disappearance of spot-like clathrin-coated structure (CCS), but the precision of spot-like CCS disappearance as a marker for canonical CME remained unknown. Here we have used an imaging assay based on total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to detect scission events with a resolution of ∼2 s. We found that scission events engulfed comparable amounts of transferrin receptor cargo at CCSs of different sizes and CCS did not always disappear following scission. We measured the recruitment dynamics of 34 types of endocytic protein to scission events: Abp1, ACK1, amphiphysin1, APPL1, Arp3, BIN1, CALM, CIP4, clathrin light chain (Clc), cofilin, coronin1B, cortactin, dynamin1/2, endophilin2, Eps15, Eps8, epsin2,! FBP17, FCHo1/2, GAK, Hip1R, lifeAct, mu2 subunit of the AP2 complex, myosin1E, myosin6, NECAP, N-WASP, OCRL1, Rab5, SNX9, synaptojanin2β1, and syndapin2. For each protein we aligned ∼1,000 recruitment profiles to their respective scission events and constructed characteristic "recruitment signatures" that were grouped, as for yeast, to reveal the modular organization of mammalian CME. A detailed analysis revealed the unanticipated recruitment dynamics of SNX9, FBP17, and CIP4 and showed that the same set of proteins was recruited, in the same order, to scission events at CCSs of different sizes and lifetimes. Collectively these data reveal the fine-grained temporal structure of CME and suggest a simplified canonical model of mammalian CME in which the same core mechanism of CME, involving actin, operates at CCSs of diverse sizes and lifetimes.
  • Local Ca2+ Entry Via Orai1 Regulates Plasma Membrane Recruitment of TRPC1 and Controls Cytosolic Ca2+ Signals Required for Specific Cell Functions
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001025 (2011)
    Store-operated Ca2+ entry (SOCE) has been associated with two types of channels: CRAC channels that require Orai1 and STIM1 and SOC channels that involve TRPC1, Orai1, and STIM1. While TRPC1 significantly contributes to SOCE and SOC channel activity, abrogation of Orai1 function eliminates SOCE and activation of TRPC1. The critical role of Orai1 in activation of TRPC1-SOC channels following Ca2+ store depletion has not yet been established. Herein we report that TRPC1 and Orai1 are components of distinct channels. We show that TRPC1/Orai1/STIM1-dependent ISOC, activated in response to Ca2+ store depletion, is composed of TRPC1/STIM1-mediated non-selective cation current and Orai1/STIM1-mediated ICRAC; the latter is detected when TRPC1 function is suppressed by expression of shTRPC1 or a STIM1 mutant that lacks TRPC1 gating, STIM1(684EE685). In addition to gating TRPC1 and Orai1, STIM1 mediates the recruitment and association of the channels within ER/PM junctional doma! ins, a critical step in TRPC1 activation. Importantly, we show that Ca2+ entry via Orai1 triggers plasma membrane insertion of TRPC1, which is prevented by blocking SOCE with 1 µM Gd3+, removal of extracellular Ca2+, knockdown of Orai1, or expression of dominant negative mutant Orai1 lacking a functional pore, Orai1-E106Q. In cells expressing another pore mutant of Orai1, Orai1-E106D, TRPC1 trafficking is supported in Ca2+-containing, but not Ca2+-free, medium. Consistent with this, ICRAC is activated in cells pretreated with thapsigargin in Ca2+-free medium while ISOC is activated in cells pretreated in Ca2+-containing medium. Significantly, TRPC1 function is required for sustained KCa activity and contributes to NFκB activation while Orai1 is sufficient for NFAT activation. Together, these findings reveal an as-yet unidentified function for Orai1 that explains the critical requirement of the channel in the activation of TRPC1 following Ca2+ store depletion. We suggest t! hat coordinated regulation of the surface expression of TRPC1 ! by Orai1 and gating by STIM1 provides a mechanism for rapidly modulating and maintaining SOCE-generated Ca2+ signals. By recruiting ion channels and other signaling pathways, Orai1 and STIM1 concertedly impact a variety of critical cell functions that are initiated by SOCE.
  • Enzymatic Blockade of the Ubiquitin-Proteasome Pathway
    - PLoS Biol 8(3):e1000605 (2011)
    Ubiquitin-dependent processes control much of cellular physiology. We show that expression of a highly active, Epstein-Barr virus-derived deubiquitylating enzyme (EBV-DUB) blocks proteasomal degradation of cytosolic and ER-derived proteins by preemptive removal of ubiquitin from proteasome substrates, a treatment less toxic than the use of proteasome inhibitors. Recognition of misfolded proteins in the ER lumen, their dislocation to the cytosol, and degradation are usually tightly coupled but can be uncoupled by the EBV-DUB: a misfolded glycoprotein that originates in the ER accumulates in association with cytosolic chaperones as a deglycosylated intermediate. Our data underscore the necessity of a DUB activity for completion of the dislocation reaction and provide a new means of inhibition of proteasomal proteolysis with reduced cytotoxicity.
  • Molecular Architecture of the Human Mediator–RNA Polymerase II–TFIIF Assembly
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1000603 (2011)
    The macromolecular assembly required to initiate transcription of protein-coding genes, known as the Pre-Initiation Complex (PIC), consists of multiple protein complexes and is approximately 3.5 MDa in size. At the heart of this assembly is the Mediator complex, which helps regulate PIC activity and interacts with the RNA polymerase II (pol II) enzyme. The structure of the human Mediator–pol II interface is not well-characterized, whereas attempts to structurally define the Mediator–pol II interaction in yeast have relied on incomplete assemblies of Mediator and/or pol II and have yielded inconsistent interpretations. We have assembled the complete, 1.9 MDa human Mediator–pol II–TFIIF complex from purified components and have characterized its structural organization using cryo-electron microscopy and single-particle reconstruction techniques. The orientation of pol II within this assembly was determined by crystal structure docking and further validated with p! rojection matching experiments, allowing the structural organization of the entire human PIC to be envisioned. Significantly, pol II orientation within the Mediator–pol II–TFIIF assembly can be reconciled with past studies that determined the location of other PIC components relative to pol II itself. Pol II surfaces required for interacting with TFIIB, TFIIE, and promoter DNA (i.e., the pol II cleft) are exposed within the Mediator–pol II–TFIIF structure; RNA exit is unhindered along the RPB4/7 subunits; upstream and downstream DNA is accessible for binding additional factors; and no major structural re-organization is necessary to accommodate the large, multi-subunit TFIIH or TFIID complexes. The data also reveal how pol II binding excludes Mediator–CDK8 subcomplex interactions and provide a structural basis for Mediator-dependent control of PIC assembly and function. Finally, parallel structural analysis of Mediator–pol II complexes lacking TFIIF reveal that ! TFIIF plays a key role in stabilizing pol II orientation withi! n the assembly.
  • A Structural and Mutagenic Blueprint for Molecular Recognition of Strychnine and d-Tubocurarine by Different Cys-Loop Receptors
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001034 (2011)
    Cys-loop receptors (CLR) are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that mediate fast excitatory or inhibitory transmission in the nervous system. Strychnine and d-tubocurarine (d-TC) are neurotoxins that have been highly instrumental in decades of research on glycine receptors (GlyR) and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), respectively. In this study we addressed the question how the molecular recognition of strychnine and d-TC occurs with high affinity and yet low specificity towards diverse CLR family members. X-ray crystal structures of the complexes with AChBP, a well-described structural homolog of the extracellular domain of the nAChRs, revealed that strychnine and d-TC adopt multiple occupancies and different ligand orientations, stabilizing the homopentameric protein in an asymmetric state. This introduces a new level of structural diversity in CLRs. Unlike protein and peptide neurotoxins, strychnine and d-TC form a limited number of contacts in the bindi! ng pocket of AChBP, offering an explanation for their low selectivity. Based on the ligand interactions observed in strychnine- and d-TC-AChBP complexes we performed alanine-scanning mutagenesis in the binding pocket of the human α1 GlyR and α7 nAChR and showed the functional relevance of these residues in conferring high potency of strychnine and d-TC, respectively. Our results demonstrate that a limited number of ligand interactions in the binding pocket together with an energetic stabilization of the extracellular domain are key to the poor selective recognition of strychnine and d-TC by CLRs as diverse as the GlyR, nAChR, and 5-HT3R.
  • A Rigidifying Salt-Bridge Favors the Activity of Thermophilic Enzyme at High Temperatures at the Expense of Low-Temperature Activity
    - PLoS Biol 9(3):e1001027 (2011)
    Background Thermophilic enzymes are often less active than their mesophilic homologues at low temperatures. One hypothesis to explain this observation is that the extra stabilizing interactions increase the rigidity of thermophilic enzymes and hence reduce their activity. Here we employed a thermophilic acylphosphatase from Pyrococcus horikoshii and its homologous mesophilic acylphosphatase from human as a model to study how local rigidity of an active-site residue affects the enzymatic activity.Methods and Findings Acylphosphatases have a unique structural feature that its conserved active-site arginine residue forms a salt-bridge with the C-terminal carboxyl group only in thermophilic acylphosphatases, but not in mesophilic acylphosphatases. We perturbed the local rigidity of this active-site residue by removing the salt-bridge in the thermophilic acylphosphatase and by introducing the salt-bridge in the mesophilic homologue. The mutagenesis design was confirmed by x-ray crystallography. Removing the salt-bridge in the thermophilic enzyme lowered the activation energy that decreased the activation enthalpy and entropy. Conversely, the introduction of the salt-bridge to the mesophilic homologue increased the activation energy and resulted in increases in both activation enthalpy and entropy. Revealed by molecular dynamics simulations, the unrestrained arginine residue can populate more rotamer conformations, and the loss of this conformational freedom upon the formation of transition s! tate justified the observed reduction in activation entropy.Conclusions Our results support the conclusion that restricting the active-site flexibility entropically favors the enzymatic activity at high temperatures. However, the accompanying enthalpy-entropy compensation leads to a stronger temperature-dependency of the enzymatic activity, which explains the less active nature of the thermophilic enzymes at low temperatures.

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