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J Biol Chem. 2001 Oct 26;276(43):40055-64. Epub 2001 Aug 1.

Structure of the tetraspanin main extracellular domain. A partially conserved fold with a structurally variable domain insertion.

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  • 1Unité Mixte de Recherche, 7033 CNRS, Laboratoire de Physicochimie Biomoléculare et Cellulaire, Université Paris 6, 4 Place Jussieu, 75005 Paris, France.


The tetraspanin family of membrane glycoproteins is involved in the regulation of cellular development, proliferation, activation, and mobility. We have attempted to predict the structural features of the large extracellular domain of tetraspanins (EC2), which is very important in determining their functional specificity. The tetraspanin EC2 is composed of two subdomains: a conserved three-helix subdomain and a variable secondary structure subdomain inserted within the conserved subdomain. The occurrence of key disulphide bridges and other invariant residues leads to a conserved relative topology of both subdomains and also suggests a structural classification of tetraspanins. Using the CD81 EC2 structure as a template, the structures of two other EC2s were predicted by homology modeling and indicate a conserved shape, in which the variable subdomain is located at one side of the structure. The conserved and variable subdomains might contain sites that correspond, respectively, to common and specific interactions of tetraspanins. The tetraspanin EC2 seems to correspond to a new scheme of fold conservation/variability among proteins, namely the insertion of a structurally variable subdomain within an otherwise conserved fold.

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