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J Pept Sci. 2009 Mar;15(3):175-83. doi: 10.1002/psc.1091.

Structural insights into the interaction between the Cripto CFC domain and the ALK4 receptor.

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Dipartimento di Chimica, Università Federico II, Complesso Universitario MSA, via Cintia 45, 80126, Napoli, Italy.


The protein Cripto is the founding member of the extra-cellular EGF-CFC growth factors, which are composed of two adjacent cysteine-rich domains: the EGF-like and the CFC. Members of the EGF-CFC family play key roles in embryonic development and are also implicated in tumourigenesis. Cripto is highly over-expressed in many tumours, while it is poorly detectable in normal tissues. Although both Cripto domains are involved in its tumourigenic activity, the CFC domain appears to play a crucial role. Indeed, through this domain, Cripto interferes with the onco-suppressive activity of Activins, either by blocking the Activin receptor ALK4 or by antagonising proteins of the TGF-beta family. We have undertaken the chemical synthesis and the structural characterisation of human CFC Cripto domain. Using a combined NMR and computational approach, supported by binding studies by SPR, we have investigated the molecular basis of the interaction between h-CFC and ALK4. Binding studies indicate that the synthetic h-CFC interacts with the ALK4 receptor with a K(D) in micro M range, whereas it does not recognise the ActRIIB receptor. The NMR study shows that the h-CFC overall topology is determined by the presence of three disulfide bridges and that residues H120 and W124 are located between the first strand and the first loop with the side chains externally exposed. A model of the CFC-ALK4 complex has also been obtained by molecular docking and shows that all residues indicated by prior mutagenesis studies can contribute to the ALK4-CFC interaction at the protein-protein interface.

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