structural and biophysical characterization of the ephb4-ephrinb2 protein protein interaction and receptor specificity.
Ephrins also known as ephrin ligands or Eph family receptor interacting proteins are a family of proteins that serve as the ligands of the ephrin receptor. Ephrin receptors in turn compose the largest known subfamily of receptor protein-tyrosine kinases (RTKs).
Since ephrin ligands (ephrins) and Eph receptors (Ephs) are both membrane-bound proteins, binding and activation of Eph/epherin intracellular signaling pathways can only occur via direct cell-cell interaction. Eph/epherin signaling regulates a variety of biological processes during embryonic development including the guidance of axon growth cones, formation of tissue boundaries, cell migration, and segmentation. Additionally, Eph/epherin signaling has recently been identified to play a critical role in the maintenance of several processes during adulthood including long-term potentiation, angiogenesis, and stem cell differentiation.
Ephrin ligands are divided into two subclasses of ephrin-A and ephrin-B based on their structure and linkage to the cell membrane. Ephrin-As are anchored to the membrane by a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) linkage and lack a cytoplasmic domain while ephrin-Bs are attached to the membrane by a single transmembrane domain that contains a short cytoplasmic PDZ-binding motif. The genes that encode the ephrin-A and ephrin-B proteins are designated as EFNA and EFNB respectively. Eph receptors in turn are classified as either EphAs or EphBs based on their binding affinity for either the ephrin-A or ephrin-B ligands.
Of the eight ephrins that have been identified in humans there are five known ephrin-A ligands (ephrin-A1-5) that interact with nine EphAs (EphA1-8 and EphA10) and three ephrin-B ligands (ephrin-B1-3) that interact with five EphBs (EphB1-4 and EphB6). Ephs of a particular subclass demonstrate an ability to bind with high affinity to all ephrins of the corresponding subcass, but in general have little to no cross-binding to ephrins of the opposing subclass. However, there are a few exceptions to this intrasubclass binding specificity as it has recently been shown that ephrin-B3 is able bind to and activate EPH receptor A4 and ephrin-A5 can bind to and activate Eph receptor B2. EphAs/ephrin-As typically bind with high affinity, which can partially be attributed to the fact that ephrinAs interact with EphAs by a "lock-and-key" mechanism that requires little conformational change of the EphAs upon ligand binding. In contrast EphBs typically bind with lower affinity than EphAs/ephring-As since they utilize an "induced fit" mechanism that requires a greater conformational change of EphBs to bind ephrin-Bs.
During the development of the central nervous system Eph/ephrin signaling plays a critical role in the cell-cell mediated migration of several types of neuronal axons to their target destinations. Eph/ephrin signaling controls the guidance of neuronal axons through their ability to inhibit the survival of axonal growth cones, which repels the migrating axon away from the site of Eph/ephrin activation. The growth cones of migrating axons do not simply respond to absolute levels of Ephs or ephrins in cells that they contact, but rather respond to relative levels of Eph and ephrin expression, which allows migrating axons that express either Ephs or ephrins to be directed along gradients of Eph or ephrin expressing cells towards a destination where axonal growth cone survival is no longer completely inhibited.
Although Eph-ephrin activation is usually associated with decreased growth cone survival and the repellence of migrating axons, it has recently been demonstrated that growth cone survival does not depend just on Eph-ephrin activation, but rather on the differential effects of "forward" signaling by the Eph receptor or "reverse" signaling by the ephrin ligand on growth cone survival(see "Ephrin Reverse Signaling" below).
The formation of an organized retinotopic map in the superior colliculus (SC) (referred to as the optic tectum in lower vertebrates) requires the proper migration of the axons of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) from the retina to specific regions in the SC that is mediated by gradients of Eph and ephrin expression in both the SC and in migrating RGCs leaving the retina. The decreased survival of axonal growth cones discussed above allows for a gradient of high posterior to low anterior ephrin-A ligand expression in the SC to direct migrating RGCs axons from the temporal region of the retina that express a high level of EphA receptors toward targets in the anterior SC and RGCs from the nasal retina that have low EphA expression toward their final destination in the posterior SC. Similarly, a gradient of ephrin-B1 expression along the medial-ventral axis of the SC directs the migration of dorsal and ventral EphB-expressing RGCs to the lateral and medial SC respectively.
One unique property of the ephrin ligands is that many have the capacity to initiate a "reverse" signal that is separate and distinct from the intracellular signal activated in Eph receptor-expressing cells. Although the mechanisms by which "reverse" signaling occurs are not completely understood, both ephrin-As and ephrin-Bs have been shown to mediate cellular responses that are distinct from those associated with activation of their corresponding receptors. Specifically, ephrin-A5 was shown to stimulate growth cone spreading in spinal motor neurons and ephrin-B1 was shown to promote dendritic spine maturation.
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