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J Mol Med (Berl). 2008 Aug;86(8):861-74. doi: 10.1007/s00109-008-0350-2. Epub 2008 May 6.

DC-SIGN and L-SIGN: the SIGNs for infection.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, University Pathology Building, Hong Kong, SAR, China.


Two closely related trans-membrane C-type lectins dendritic cell-specific intracellular adhesion molecules (ICAM)-3 grabbing non-integrin (DC-SIGN or CD209) and liver/lymph node-specific ICAM-3 grabbing non-integrin (L-SIGN also known as DC-SIGNR, CD209L or CLEC4M) directly recognize a wide range of micro-organisms of major impact on public health. Both genes have long been considered to share similar overall structure and ligand-binding characteristics. This review presents more recent biochemical and structural studies, which show that they have distinct ligand-binding properties and different physiological functions. Of importance in both these genes is the presence of an extra-cellular domain consisting of an extended neck region encoded by tandem repeats that support the carbohydrate-recognition domain, which plays a crucial role in influencing the pathogen-binding properties of these receptors. The notable difference between these two genes is in this extra-cellular domain. Whilst the tandem-neck-repeat region remains relatively constant size for DC-SIGN, there is considerable polymorphism for L-SIGN. Homo-oligomerization of the neck region of L-SIGN has been shown to be important for high-affinity ligand binding, and heterozygous expression of the polymorphic variants of L-SIGN in which neck lengths differ could thus affect ligand-binding affinity. Functional studies on the effect of this tandem-neck-repeat region on pathogen-binding, as well as genetic association studies for various infectious diseases and among different populations, are discussed. Worldwide demographic data of the tandem-neck-repeat region showing distinct differences in the neck-region allele and genotype distribution among different ethnic groups are presented. These findings support the neck region as an excellent candidate acting as a functional target for selective pressures exerted by pathogens.

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