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J Biol Chem. 2006 Sep 29;281(39):29148-54. Epub 2006 Aug 6.

Insights into allosteric control of vinculin function from its large scale conformational dynamics.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599, USA.


Vinculin is an important constituent of both cell-cell and cell-matrix junctions, where it plays crucial roles in the regulation of cell adhesion and migration. When activated, it mediates the linkage between cadherins (cell-cell) or integrins (cell-matrix) and the actin cytoskeleton through interactions with various proteins. The activation of vinculin requires structural conversions from an autoinhibited conformation to the "open" conformations in which the occluded binding sites of its different ligands become exposed, while the structural dynamics underlying the vinculin activation remains largely unknown. Here we report the first computational study of large scale conformational dynamics of full-length vinculin. We find that the "holding" and "releasing" motions between vinculin tail and pincer-like structure formed by first three domains of vinculin are the dominant motions near the native state of vinculin, indicating that an inherent flexibility of vinculin has a large influence on its allostery. We also find a cooperative dissociation between the head and tail domains of vinculin with increasing temperature in both thermodynamic and kinetic simulations, implying that vinculin may function as an allosteric switch in response to external signals. We show that the kinetics of vinculin unfolding exhibits specific sequential patterns, suggesting that a sophisticated interplay between domains may synergistically contribute to vinculin activation. We further find that the interaction between vinculin-binding site peptide from talin and vinculin significantly destabilizes the intramolecular head-tail interactions, suggesting a direct role of talin binding in vinculin activation.

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