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Protein Sci. 2000 May;9(5):916-26.

Comparative model building of interleukin-7 using interleukin-4 as a template: a structural hypothesis that displays atypical surface chemistry in helix D important for receptor activation.

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  • 1Evans Department of Clinical Research, Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts 02118-2393, USA.


Using a combination of theoretical sequence structure recognition predictions and experimental disulfide bond assignments, a three-dimensional (3D) model of human interleukin-7 (hIL-7) was constructed that predicts atypical surface chemistry in helix D that is important for receptor activation. A 3D model of hIL-7 was built using the X-ray crystal structure of interleukin-4 (IL-4) as a template (Walter MR et al., 1992, J Mol Biol. 224:1075-1085; Walter MR et al., 1992, J Biol Chem 267:20371-20376). Core secondary structures were constructed from sequences of hIL-7 predicted to form helices. The model was constructed by superimposing IL-7 helices onto the IL-4 template and connecting them together in an up-up down-down topology. The model was finished by incorporating the disulfide bond assignments (Cys3, Cys142), (Cys35, Cys130), and (Cys48, Cys93), which were determined by MALDI mass spectroscopy and site-directed mutagenesis (Cosenza L, Sweeney E, Murphy JR, 1997, J Biol Chem 272:32995-33000). Quality analysis of the hIL-7 model identified poor structural features in the carboxyl terminus that, when further studied using hydrophobic moment analysis, detected an atypical structural property in helix D, which contains Cys 130 and Cys142. This analysis demonstrated that helix D had a hydrophobic surface exposed to bulk solvent that accounted for the poor quality of the model, but was suggestive of a region in IL-7 that maybe important for protein interactions. Alanine (Ala) substitution scanning mutagenesis was performed to test if the predicted atypical surface chemistry of helix D in the hIL-7 model is important for receptor activation. This analysis resulted in the construction, purification, and characterization of four hIL-7 variants, hIL-7(K121A), hIL-7(L136A), hIL-7(K140A), and hIL-7(W143A), that displayed reduced or abrogated ability to stimulate a murine IL-7 dependent pre-B cell proliferation. The mutant hIL-7(W143A), which is biologically inactive and displaces [125I]-hIL-7, is the first reported IL-7R system antagonist.

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