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J Mol Biol. 2003 May 23;329(1):15-33.

An atomic model for actin binding by the CH domains and spectrin-repeat modules of utrophin and dystrophin.

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  • 1Structural Studies Division, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 2QH, UK.


Utrophin and dystrophin link cytoskeletal F-actin filaments to the plasmalemma. Genetic strategies to replace defective dystrophin with utrophin in individuals with muscular dystrophy requires full characterization of these proteins. Both contain homologous N-terminal actin-binding motifs composed of a pair of calponin-homology (CH) domains (CH1 and CH2) that are connected by spectrin-repeat modules to C-terminal membrane-binding sequences. Here, electron microscopy and 3D reconstruction of F-actin decorated with utrophin and dystrophin actin-binding constructs were performed using Utr261 (utrophin's CH domain pair), Utr416 (utrophin's CH domains and first spectrin-repeat) and Dys246 (dystrophin's CH domain pair). The lozenge-like utrophin CH domain densities localized to the upper surface of actin subdomain 1 and extended azimuthally over subdomain 2 toward subdomains 3 and 4. The cylinder-shaped spectrin-repeat was located at the end of the CH domain pair and was aligned longitudinally along the cleft between inner and outer actin domains, where tropomyosin is present when on thin filaments. The connection between the spectrin-repeat module and the CH domains defined the orientation of CH1 and CH2 on actin. Resolution of utrophin's CH domains and spectrin-repeats permitted docking of crystal structures into respective EM densities, leading to an atomic model where both CH and spectrin-domains bind actin. The CH domain-actin interaction for dystrophin was found to be more complex than for utrophin. Binding assays showed that Utr261 and Utr416 interacted with F-actin as monomers, whereas Dys246 appeared to associate as a dimer, consistent with a bilobed Dys246 structure observed on F-actin in electron microscope reconstructions. One of the lobes was similar in shape, position and orientation to the monomeric CH domains of Utr261, while the other lobe apparently represented a second set of CH domains in the dimeric Dys246. The extensive contact made by dystrophin on actin may be used in vivo to help muscles dissipate mechanical stress from the contractile apparatus to the extracellular matrix.

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