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1.  Membrane Remodeling Induced by the Dynamin Related Protein Drp1 Stimulates Bax Oligomerization 
Cell  2010;142(6):889-901.
In response to many apoptotic stimuli, oligomerization of Bax is essential for mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization and the ensuing release of cytochrome c. These events are accompanied by mitochondrial fission that appears to require Drp1, a large GTPase of the dynamin superfamily. Loss of Drp1 leads to decreased cytochrome c release by a mechanism that is poorly understood. Here we show that Drp1 stimulates tBid-induced Bax oligomerization and cytochrome c release by promoting tethering and hemifusion of membranes in vitro. This function of Drp1 is independent of its GTPase activity and relies on arginine 247 and the presence of cardiolipin in membranes. In cells, overexpression of Drp1 R247A/E delays Bax oligomerization and cell death. Our findings reveal a novel function of Drp1 and provide a new insight into the mechanism of Bax oligomerization.
PMCID: PMC4115189  PMID: 20850011
2.  Characterization of a Protein Generated O2 Binding Pocket in PqqC, a Cofactorless Oxidase Catalyzing the Final Step in PQQ Production† 
Biochemistry  2011;50(9):1556-1566.
PQQ is an exogenous, tricyclic, quino-cofactor for a number of bacterial dehydrogenases. The final step of PQQ formation is catalyzed by PqqC, a cofactorless oxidase. This study focuses on the activation of molecular oxygen in an enzyme active site without metal or cofactor and has identified a specific oxygen binding and activating pocket in PqqC. The active site variants H154N, Y175F,S and R179S were studied with the goal of defining the site of O2 binding and activation. Using apo-glucose dehydrogenase to assay for PQQ production, none of the mutants in this “O2 core” are capable of PQQ/PQQH2 formation. Spectrophotometric assays give insight into the incomplete reactions being catalyzed by these mutants. Active site variants Y175F, H154N and R179S form a quinoid intermediate (Figure 1) anaerobically. Y175S is capable of proceeding further from quinoid to quinol, whereas Y175F, H154N and R179S require O2 to produce the quinol species. None of the mutations precludes substrate/product binding or oxygen binding. Assays for the oxidation of PQQH2 to PQQ show that these O2 core mutants are incapable of catalyzing a rate increase over the reaction in buffer. Interestingly, H154N can catalyze the oxidation of PQQH2 to PQQ faster than buffer, but only with H2O2 as an electron acceptor, not with O2. Taken together, these data indicate that none of the targeted mutants can react fully to form quinone even in the presence of bound O2. The data indicate a successful separation of oxidative chemistry from O2 binding. The residues H154, Y175, and R179 are proposed to form a core O2 binding structure that is essential for O2 activation.
PMCID: PMC4002361  PMID: 21155540
PqqC; non-metal O2 pocket; redox inactive mutants
3.  The NLRP12 Pyrin Domain – Structure, Dynamics and Functional Insights 
Journal of molecular biology  2011;413(4):790-803.
The initial line of defense against infection is sustained by the innate immune system. Together, membrane-bound TLR and cytosolic NLR receptors play key roles in the innate immune response by detecting bacterial and viral invaders as well as endogenous stress signals. NLRs are multi-domain proteins with varying N-terminal effector domains that are responsible for regulating downstream signaling events. Here, we report the structure and dynamics of the N-terminal pyrin domain of NLRP12 (NLRP12 PYD) determined using NMR spectroscopy. NLRP12 is a non-inflammasome NLR that has been implicated in the regulation of TLR-dependent NF-κB activation. NLRP12 PYD adopts a typical 6-helical bundle death domain fold. By direct comparison with other PYD structures, we identified hydrophobic residues that are essential for the stable fold of the NLRP PYD family. In addition, we report the first in vitro confirmed non-homotypic PYD interaction between NLRP12 PYD and the pro-apoptotic protein FAF-1, which links the innate immune system to apoptotic signaling. Interestingly, all residues that participate in this protein:protein interaction are confined to the α2-α3 surface, a region of NLRP12 PYD that differs most between currently reported NLRP PYD structures. Finally, we experimentally highlight a significant role for tryptophan 45 in the interaction between NLRP12 PYD and the FAF-1 UBA domain.
PMCID: PMC3202057  PMID: 21978668
NLR proteins; death domain; pyrin domain; NLRP12; FAF-1; innate immune system; apoptosis; NMR spectroscopy; protein:protein interaction
4.  Response to Detection and analysis of unusual features in the structural model and structure-factor data of a birch pollen allergen  
A response to the article by Rupp (2012), Acta Cryst. F68, 366–376.
The authors of J. Immunol. 184, 725–735 respond to the article by Rupp (2012), Acta Cryst. F68, 366–376.
PMCID: PMC3325801  PMID: 22505401
response; protein structure; Bet V 1 birch pollen allergen
5.  Activation and Specificity of human Caspase-10 
Biochemistry  2010;49(38):8307-8315.
Two apical caspases, caspase-8 and-10, are involved in the extrinsic death receptor pathway in humans but it is mainly caspase-8 in its apoptotic and non-apoptotic functions that has been an intense research focus. In this study we concentrate on caspase-10, its mechanism of activation and the role of the inter-subunit cleavage. Our data obtained through in vitro dimerization assays strongly suggest that caspase-10 follows the proximity–induced dimerization model for apical caspases. Furthermore, we compare the specificity and activity of the wildtype protease with a mutant incapable of autoprocessing, by using positional scanning substrate analysis and cleavage of natural protein substrates. These experiments reveal a striking difference between the wildtype and the mutant, leading us to hypothesize that the single chain enzyme has restricted activity on most proteins, but high activity on the pro-apoptotic protein Bid, potentially supporting a pro-death role for both cleaved and uncleaved caspase-10.
PMCID: PMC2943529  PMID: 20795673
Nature medicine  2011;17(3):377-382.
Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited and incurable neurodegenerative disorder caused by an abnormal polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion in huntingtin (HTT). PolyQ length determines disease onset and severity with a longer expansion causing earlier onset. The mechanisms of mutant HTT-mediated neurotoxicity remain unclear; however, mitochondrial dysfunction is a key event in HD pathogenesis1,2. Here we tested whether mutant HTT impairs the mitochondrial fission/fusion balance and thereby causes neuronal injury. We show that mutant HTT triggers mitochondrial fragmentation in neurons and fibroblasts of HD individuals in vitro and HD mice in vivo before the presence of neurological deficits and HTT aggregates. Interestingly, mutant HTT abnormally interacts with the mitochondrial fission GTPase dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1) in HD mice and individuals which in turn stimulates its enzymatic activity. Importantly, mutant HTT-mediated mitochondrial fragmentation, defects in anterograde and retrograde mitochondrial transport, and neuronal cell death are all rescued by reducing DRP1 GTPase activity with the dominant-negative DRP1K38A mutant. Thus, DRP1 might represent a new therapeutic target to combat neurodegeneration in HD.
PMCID: PMC3051025  PMID: 21336284
7.  Impact of Valency of a Glycoprotein B-Specific Monoclonal Antibody on Neutralization of Herpes Simplex Virus ▿  
Journal of Virology  2010;85(4):1793-1803.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) glycoprotein B (gB) is an integral part of the multicomponent fusion system required for virus entry and cell-cell fusion. Here we investigated the mechanism of viral neutralization by the monoclonal antibody (MAb) 2c, which specifically recognizes the gB of HSV type 1 (HSV-1) and HSV-2. Binding of MAb 2c to a type-common discontinuous epitope of gB resulted in highly efficient neutralization of HSV at the postbinding/prefusion stage and completely abrogated the viral cell-to-cell spread in vitro. Mapping of the antigenic site recognized by MAb 2c to the recently solved crystal structure of the HSV-1 gB ectodomain revealed that its discontinuous epitope is only partially accessible within the observed multidomain trimer conformation of gB, likely representing its postfusion conformation. To investigate how MAb 2c may interact with gB during membrane fusion, we characterized the properties of monovalent (Fab and scFv) and bivalent [IgG and F(ab′)2] derivatives of MAb 2c. Our data show that the neutralization capacity of MAb 2c is dependent on cross-linkage of gB trimers. As a result, only bivalent derivatives of MAb 2c exhibited high neutralizing activity in vitro. Notably, bivalent MAb 2c not only was capable of preventing mucocutaneous disease in severely immunodeficient NOD/SCID mice upon vaginal HSV-1 challenge but also protected animals even with neuronal HSV infection. We also report for the first time that an anti-gB specific monoclonal antibody prevents HSV-1-induced encephalitis entirely independently from complement activation, antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity, and cellular immunity. This indicates the potential for further development of MAb 2c as an anti-HSV drug.
PMCID: PMC3028897  PMID: 21123390
8.  Antigen Aggregation Decides the Fate of the Allergic Immune Response 
Previously, defined naturally occurring isoforms of allergenic proteins were classified as hypoallergens and therefore suggested as an agent for immunotherapy in the future. In this paper, we report for the first time the molecular background of hypoallergenicity by comparing the immunological behavior of hyperallergenic Betula verrucosa major Ag 1a (Bet v 1a) and hypoallergenic Bet v 1d, two isoforms of the major birch pollen allergen Betula verrucosa 1. Despite their cross-reactivity, Bet v 1a and Bet v 1d differ in their capacity to induce protective Ab responses in BALB/c mice. Both isoforms induced similar specific IgE levels, but only Bet v 1d expressed relevant titers of serum IgGs and IgAs. Interestingly, hypoallergenic Bet v 1d activated dendritic cells more efficiently, followed by the production of increased amounts of Th1- as well as Th2-type cytokines. Surprisingly, compared with Bet v 1a, Bet v 1d-immunized mice showed a decreased proliferation of regulatory T cells. Crystallographic studies and dynamic light scattering revealed that Bet v 1d demonstrated a high tendency to form disulfide-linked aggregates due to a serine to cysteine exchange at residue 113. We conclude that aggregation of Bet v 1d triggers the establishment of a protective Ab titer and supports a rationale for Bet v 1d being a promising candidate for specific immunotherapy of birch pollen allergy.
PMCID: PMC2968749  PMID: 19995902
9.  S-Nitrosylation of DRP1 Does Not Affect Enzymatic Activity and is Not Specific to Alzheimer's Disease 
Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD  2010;20(Suppl 2):S513-S526.
Mitochondrial dysfunction and synaptic loss are among the earliest events linked to Alzheimer's disease (AD) and might play a causative role in disease onset and progression. The underlying mechanisms of mitochondrial and synaptic dysfunction in AD remain unclear. We previously reported that nitric oxide (NO) triggers persistent mitochondrial fission and causes neuronal cell death. A recent article claimed that S-nitrosylation of dynamin related protein 1 (DRP1) at cysteine 644 causes protein dimerization and increased GTPase activity and is the mechanism responsible for NO-induced mitochondrial fission and neuronal injury in AD, but not in Parkinson's disease (PD). However, this report remains controversial. To resolve the controversy, we investigated the effects of S-nitrosylation on DRP1 structure and function. Contrary to the previous report, S-nitrosylation of DRP1 does not increase GTPase activity or cause dimerization. In fact, DRP1 does not exist as a dimer under native conditions, but rather as a tetramer capable of self-assembly into higher order spiral- and ring-like oligomeric structures after nucleotide binding. S-nitrosylation, as confirmed by the biotin-switch assay, has no impact on DRP1 oligomerization. Importantly, we found no significant difference in S-nitrosylated DRP1 (SNO-DRP1) levels in brains of age-matched normal, AD, or PD patients. We also found that S-nitrosylation is not specific to DRP1 because S-nitrosylated optic atrophy 1 (SNO-OPA1) is present at comparable levels in all human brain samples. Finally, we show that NO triggers DRP1 phosphorylation at serine 616, which results in its activation and recruitment to mitochondria. Our data indicate the mechanism underlying nitrosative stress-induced mitochondrial fragmentation in AD is not DRP1 S-nitrosylation.
PMCID: PMC2893334  PMID: 20463395
large GTPases; mitochondrial fission and fusion; nitrosative stress; OPA1; SNO-DRP1; synapses
10.  The Fas/FADD death domain complex structure unravels signaling by receptor clustering 
Nature  2008;457(7232):1019-1022.
The Death Inducing Signaling Complex (DISC) formed by Fas receptor, FADD and caspase-8 is a pivotal trigger of apoptosis1-3. The Fas/FADD DISC represents a receptor platform, which once assembled initiates the induction of programmed cell death. A highly oligomeric network of homotypic protein interactions comprised of the death domains (DD) of Fas and FADD is at the center of DISC formation4, 5. Thus characterising the mechanistic basis for the Fas/FADD interaction is paramount for understanding DISC signaling but has remained enigmatic largely due to a lack of structural data. We have successfully formed and isolated the Fas/FADD DD complex and here we report the 2.7 Å crystal structure. The complex shows a tetrameric arrangement of four FADD DDs bound to four Fas DDs. We show that an opening of the Fas DD exposes the FADD binding site and simultaneously generates a Fas/Fas bridge. The result is a regulatory Fas/FADD complex bridge governed by weak protein:protein interactions revealing a model where the complex functions as a mechanistic switch. This switch prevents accidental DISC assembly, yet allows for highly processive DISC formation and clustering upon a sufficient stimulus. Thus besides depicting a previously unknown mode of death domain interactions, these results further uncover a mechanism for receptor signaling solely by oligomerization and clustering events.
PMCID: PMC2661029  PMID: 19118384
Nature reviews. Neuroscience  2008;9(7):505-518.
Mitochondria are remarkably dynamic organelles that migrate, divide and fuse. Cycles of mitochondrial fission and fusion ensure metabolite and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mixing and dictate organelle shape, number and bioenergetic functionality. There is mounting evidence that mitochondrial dysfunction is an early and causal event in neurodegeneration. Mutations in mitochondrial fusion GTPases (mitofusin-2 and optic atrophy-1), neurotoxins and oxidative stress all disrupt the cable-like morphology of functional mitochondria. This results in impaired bioenergetics and mitochondrial migration and can trigger neurodegeneration. These findings suggest potential new treatment avenues for neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC2711514  PMID: 18568013
12.  Evaluation of Nod-Like Receptor (NLR) Effector Domain Interactions 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e4931.
Members of the Nod-like receptor (NLR) family recognize intracellular pathogens and recruit a variety of effector molecules, including pro-caspases and kinases, which in turn are implicated in cytokine processing and NF-κB activation.
In order to elucidate the intricate network of NLR signaling, which is still fragmentary in molecular terms, we applied comprehensive yeast two-hybrid analysis for unbiased evaluation of physical interactions between NLRs and their adaptors (ASC, CARD8) as well as kinase RIPK2 and inflammatory caspases (C1, C2, C4, C5) under identical conditions. Our results confirmed the interaction of NOD1 and NOD2 with RIPK2, and between NLRP3 and ASC, but most importantly, our studies revealed hitherto unrecognized interactions of NOD2 with members of the NLRP subfamily. We found that NOD2 specifically and directly interacts with NLRP1, NLRP3 and NLRP12. Furthermore, we observed homodimerization of the RIPK2 CARD domains and identified residues in NOD2 critical for interaction with RIPK2.
In conclusion, our work provides further evidence for the complex network of protein-protein interactions underlying NLR function.
PMCID: PMC2660581  PMID: 19337385
13.  Low Density Lipoproteins as Circulating Fast Temperature Sensors 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(12):e4079.
The potential physiological significance of the nanophase transition of neutral lipids in the core of low density lipoprotein (LDL) particles is dependent on whether the rate is fast enough to integrate small (±2°C) temperature changes in the blood circulation.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using sub-second, time-resolved small-angle X-ray scattering technology with synchrotron radiation, we have monitored the dynamics of structural changes within LDL, which were triggered by temperature-jumps and -drops, respectively. Our findings reveal that the melting transition is complete within less than 10 milliseconds. The freezing transition proceeds slowly with a half-time of approximately two seconds. Thus, the time period over which LDL particles reside in cooler regions of the body readily facilitates structural reorientation of the apolar core lipids.
Low density lipoproteins, the biological nanoparticles responsible for the transport of cholesterol in blood, are shown to act as intrinsic nano-thermometers, which can follow the periodic temperature changes during blood circulation. Our results demonstrate that the lipid core in LDL changes from a liquid crystalline to an oily state within fractions of seconds. This may, through the coupling to the protein structure of LDL, have important repercussions on current theories of the role of LDL in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2603587  PMID: 19114995
14.  The Nod-Like Receptor (NLR) Family: A Tale of Similarities and Differences 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(4):e2119.
Innate immunity represents an important system with a variety of vital processes at the core of many diseases. In recent years, the central role of the Nod-like receptor (NLR) protein family became increasingly appreciated in innate immune responses. NLRs are classified as part of the signal transduction ATPases with numerous domains (STAND) clade within the AAA+ ATPase family. They typically feature an N-terminal effector domain, a central nucleotide-binding domain (NACHT) and a C-terminal ligand-binding region that is composed of several leucine-rich repeats (LRRs). NLRs are believed to initiate or regulate host defense pathways through formation of signaling platforms that subsequently trigger the activation of inflammatory caspases and NF-kB. Despite their fundamental role in orchestrating key pathways in innate immunity, their mode of action in molecular terms remains largely unknown. Here we present the first comprehensive sequence and structure modeling analysis of NLR proteins, revealing that NLRs posses a domain architecture similar to the apoptotic initiator protein Apaf-1. Apaf-1 performs its cellular function by the formation of a heptameric platform, dubbed apoptosome, ultimately triggering the controlled demise of the affected cell. The mechanism of apoptosome formation by Apaf-1 potentially offers insight into the activation mechanisms of NLR proteins. Multiple sequence alignment analysis and homology modeling revealed Apaf-1-like structural features in most members of the NLR family, suggesting a similar biochemical behaviour in catalytic activity and oligomerization. Evolutionary tree comparisons substantiate the conservation of characteristic functional regions within the NLR family and are in good agreement with domain distributions found in distinct NLRs. Importantly, the analysis of LRR domains reveals surprisingly low conservation levels among putative ligand-binding motifs. The same is true for the effector domains exhibiting distinct interfaces ensuring specific interactions with downstream target proteins. All together these factors suggest specific biological functions for individual NLRs.
PMCID: PMC2323615  PMID: 18446235
15.  The pyrroloquinoline quinone biosynthesis pathway revisited: A structural approach 
BMC Biochemistry  2008;9:8.
The biosynthesis pathway of Pyrroloquinoline quinone, a bacterial redox active cofactor for numerous alcohol and aldose dehydrogenases, is largely unknown, but it is proven that at least six genes in Klebsiella pneumoniae (PqqA-F) are required, all of which are located in the PQQ-operon.
New structural data of some PQQ biosynthesis proteins and their homologues provide new insights and functional assignments of the proteins in the pathway. Based on sequence analysis and homology models we propose the role and catalytic function for each enzyme involved in this intriguing biosynthesis pathway.
PQQ is derived from the two amino acids glutamate and tyrosine encoded in the precursor peptide PqqA. Five reactions are necessary to form this quinone cofactor. The PqqA peptide is recognised by PqqE, which links the C9 and C9a, afterwards it is accepted by PqqF which cuts out the linked amino acids. The next reaction (Schiff base) is spontaneous, the following dioxygenation is catalysed by an unknown enzyme. The last cyclization and oxidation steps are catalysed by PqqC. Taken together the known facts of the different proteins we assign a putative function to all six proteins in PQQ biosynthesis pathway.
PMCID: PMC2294125  PMID: 18371220
16.  The JCSG MR pipeline: optimized alignments, multiple models and parallel searches 
The practical limits of molecular replacement can be extended by using several specifically designed protein models based on fold-recognition methods and by exhaustive searches performed in a parallelized pipeline. Updated results from the JCSG MR pipeline, which to date has solved 33 molecular-replacement structures with less than 35% sequence identity to the closest homologue of known structure, are presented.
The success rate of molecular replacement (MR) falls considerably when search models share less than 35% sequence identity with their templates, but can be improved significantly by using fold-recognition methods combined with exhaustive MR searches. Models based on alignments calculated with fold-recognition algorithms are more accurate than models based on conventional alignment methods such as FASTA or BLAST, which are still widely used for MR. In addition, by designing MR pipelines that integrate phasing and automated refinement and allow parallel processing of such calculations, one can effectively increase the success rate of MR. Here, updated results from the JCSG MR pipeline are presented, which to date has solved 33 MR structures with less than 35% sequence identity to the closest homologue of known structure. By using difficult MR problems as examples, it is demonstrated that successful MR phasing is possible even in cases where the similarity between the model and the template can only be detected with fold-recognition algorithms. In the first step, several search models are built based on all homologues found in the PDB by fold-recognition algorithms. The models resulting from this process are used in parallel MR searches with different combinations of input parameters of the MR phasing algorithm. The putative solutions are subjected to rigid-body and restrained crystallo­graphic refinement and ranked based on the final values of free R factor, figure of merit and deviations from ideal geometry. Finally, crystal packing and electron-density maps are checked to identify the correct solution. If this procedure does not yield a solution with interpretable electron-density maps, then even more alternative models are prepared. The structurally variable regions of a protein family are identified based on alignments of sequences and known structures from that family and appropriate trimmings of the models are proposed. All combinations of these trimmings are applied to the search models and the resulting set of models is used in the MR pipeline. It is estimated that with the improvements in model building and exhaustive parallel searches with existing phasing algorithms, MR can be successful for more than 50% of recognizable homologues of known structures below the threshold of 35% sequence identity. This implies that about one-third of the proteins in a typical bacterial proteome are potential MR targets.
PMCID: PMC2394805  PMID: 18094477
molecular replacement; sequence-alignment accuracy; homology modeling; parameter-space screening; structural genomics

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