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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jan 8;105(1):371-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0707815105. Epub 2007 Dec 28.

An alcohol binding site on the neural cell adhesion molecule L1.

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Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Prenatal ethanol exposure causes fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in part by disrupting the neural cell adhesion molecule L1. L1 gene mutations cause neuropathological abnormalities similar to those of FASD. Ethanol and 1-butanol inhibit L1-mediated cell-cell adhesion (L1 adhesion), whereas 1-octanol antagonizes this action. To test the hypothesis that there are alcohol binding sites on L1, we used 3-azibutanol and 3-azioctanol, the photoactivatable analogs of 1-butanol and 1-octanol, to photolabel the purified Ig1-4 domain of human L1 (hL1 Ig1-4). 3-Azibutanol (11 mM), like ethanol, inhibited L1 adhesion in NIH/3T3 cells stably transfected with hL1, whereas subanesthetic concentrations of 3-azioctanol (14 microM) antagonized ethanol inhibition of L1 adhesion. 3-Azibutanol (100-1,000 microM) and 3-azioctanol (10-100 microM) photoincorporated into Tyr-418 on Ig4 and into two adjacent regions in the N terminus, Glu-33 and Glu-24 to Glu-27. A homology model of hL1 Ig1-4 (residues 33-422), based on the structure of the Ig1-4 domains of axonin-1, suggests that Glu-33 and Tyr-418 hydrogen-bond at the interface of Ig1 and Ig4 to stabilize a horseshoe conformation of L1 that favors homophilic binding. Furthermore, this alcohol binding pocket lies within 7 A of Leu-120 and Gly-121, residues in which missense mutations cause neurological disorders similar to FASD. These data suggest that ethanol or selected mutations produce neuropathological abnormalities by disrupting the domain interface between Ig1 and Ig4. Characterization of alcohol agonist and antagonist binding sites on L1 will aid in understanding the molecular basis for FASD and might accelerate the development of ethanol antagonists.

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