The interaction between complement fragment C3d and complement receptor 2 (CR2) is a key aspect of complement immune system activation, and is a component in a link between innate and adaptive immunities. The complement immune system is an ancient mechanism for defense, and can be found in species that have been on Earth for the last 600 million years. However, the link between the complement system and adaptive immunity, which is formed through the association of the B-cell co-receptor complex, including the C3d-CR2 interaction, is a much more recent adaptation. Human C3d and CR2 have net charges of −1 and +7 respectively, and are believed to have evolved favoring the role of electrostatics in their functions. To investigate the role of electrostatics in the function and evolution of human C3d and CR2, we have applied electrostatic similarity methods to identify regions of evolutionarily conserved electrostatic potential based on 24 homologues of complement C3d and 4 homologues of CR2. We also examine the effects of structural perturbation, as introduced through molecular dynamics and mutations, on spatial distributions of electrostatic potential to identify perturbation resistant regions, generated by so-called electrostatic “hot-spots”. Distributions of electrostatic similarity based on families of perturbed structures illustrate the presence of electrostatic “hot-spots” at the two functional sites of C3d, while the surface of CR2 lacks electrostatic “hot-spots” despite its excessively positive nature. We propose that the electrostatic “hot-spots” of C3d have evolved to optimize its dual-functionality (covalently attaching to pathogen surfaces and interaction with CR2), which are both necessary for the formation B-cell co-receptor complexes. Comparison of the perturbation resistance of the electrostatic character of the homologues of C3d suggests that there was an emergence of a new role of electrostatics, and a transition in the function of C3d, after the divergence of jawless fish.
Complement fragment C3d is a thioester-containing protein that is a key component/domain in the complement system, an ancient line of defense, due to its ability to covalently attach to pathogen cell surfaces, such as bacteria. As the immune system evolved in complexity, from acellular defense mechanisms to multicellular systems with memory, so has the function of C3d. In humans, but not lower species such as invertebrates, C3d attached to pathogen surfaces binds B-cell co-receptor CR2, in conjunction with an antibody/antigen complex, forming a link between the innate and adaptive immune systems. The C3d-CR2 interaction ultimately increases B-cell sensitivity to the C3d tagged pathogen by 1,000–10,000 fold, and is known to be driven by electrostatic forces. Since electrostatics are crucial to the C3d-CR2 interaction, it is likely that probing the evolution of the electrostatics of C3d and CR2 will provide insight into this gained function. To this end, we employ a novel computational approach for identifying the electrostatic “hot-spots” of C3d and CR2, which are produced by clusters of like-charged residues found on the surface of the protein. Electrostatic “hot-spots” are often evolutionarily favored and in this study provide new insight into the evolution of C3d in its role in a link between innate and adaptive immunity.