Science Highlights: December 2016 Archives

Apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF) is critical for mitochondrial respiratory complex biogenesis and for mediating necroptotic parthanatos; these functions are seemingly regulated by enigmatic allosteric switching driven by NADH charge-transfer complex (CTC) formation. In this paper the authors define molecular pathways linking AIF’s active site to allosteric switching regions by characterizing dimer-permissive mutants using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and crystallography and by probing AIF-CTC communication networks using molecular dynamics simulations. Collective results identify two pathways propagating allostery from the CTC active site: (1) active-site H454 links to S480 of AIF’s central β-strand to modulate a hydrophobic border at the dimerization interface, and (2) an interaction network links AIF’s FAD cofactor, central β-strand, and Cβ-clasp whereby R529 reorientation initiates C-loop release during CTC formation. This knowledge of AIF allostery and its flavoswitch mechanism provides a foundation for biologically understanding and biomedically controlling its participation in mitochondrial homeostasis and cell death.


Brosey CA, Ho C, Long WZ, Singh S, Burnett K, Hura GL, Nix JC, Bowman GR, Ellenberger T, Tainer JA. “Defining NADH-Driven Allostery Regulating Apoptosis-Inducing Factor.” Structure 2016 Dec 06 ;24(12)

Tip link filaments convey force and gate inner-ear hair-cell transduction channels to mediate perception of sound and head movements. Cadherin-23 and protocadherin-15 form tip links through a calcium-dependent interaction of their extracellular domains made of multiple extracellular cadherin (EC) repeats. These repeats are structurally similar, but not identical in sequence, often featuring linkers with conserved calcium-binding sites that confer mechanical strength to them. In a paper recently published in Nature Communications the Sotomayor lab reports the X-ray crystal structures of human protocadherin-15 EC8-EC10 and mouse EC9-EC10, which show an EC8-9 canonical-like calcium-binding linker, and an EC9-10 calcium-free linker that alters the linear arrangement of EC repeats. Molecular dynamics simulations and small-angle X-ray scattering experiments support this non-linear conformation. Simulations also suggest that unbending of EC9-10 confers some elasticity to otherwise rigid tip links. The new structure provides a first view of protocadherin-15’s non- canonical EC linkers and suggests how they may function in inner-ear mechanotransduction, with implications for other cadherins.


Araya-Secchi R, Neel BL, Sotomayor M. “An elastic element in the protocadherin-15 tip link of the inner ear.” Nat Commun 2016 Nov 18 ;7

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