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Biochem J. Nov 15, 2001; 360(Pt 1): 189–198.
PMCID: PMC1222217

Hormone-triggered conformational changes within the insulin-receptor ectodomain: requirement for transmembrane anchors.


Interaction between two alphabeta half-receptors within the (alphabeta)(2) holoreceptor complex is required for insulin binding with high affinity and for insulin-triggered changes of size and shape. To understand the underlying structure-function relationship, two truncated receptor constructs have been characterized. Reduction in the Stokes radius and increase in the sedimentation coefficient, which are characteristic for wild-type receptors, were entirely lacking for the recombinant human insulin receptor (HIR) ectodomain (HIR-ED). Stokes radii of about 5.8 nm and sedimentation coefficients of 10.2 S were found for both insulin-bound and free HIR-EDs. However, attaching the membrane anchors to the ectodomain, as with the recombinant membrane-anchored ectodomain (HIR-MAED) construct, was sufficient to restore not only high-affinity hormone binding but also the marked insulin-inducible alterations in hydrodynamic properties. The Stokes radii of HIR-MAED complexes, as assessed by non-denaturing PAGE, decreased upon insulin binding from 9.5 nm to 7.9 nm. In parallel, the sedimentation coefficient was increased from 9.0 S to 9.8 S. CD and fluorescence spectroscopy of HIR-MAED revealed only minor insulin-induced changes in the secondary structure. Similarity with wild-type receptors has also been demonstrated by the differential insertion of insulin-bound and free HIR-MAED complexes into artificial bilayer membranes of Triton X-114. The results are consistent with a model of receptor function that ensures a global insulin-triggered reorientation of subdomains within the ectodomain moieties while the secondary structure is essentially retained. For the rearrangement of such subdomains, the transmembrane anchors confer essential structural constraints on the receptor ectodomain.

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