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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 19;109(25):9816-21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1116975109. Epub 2012 Jun 5.

Low-resolution solution structures of Munc18:Syntaxin protein complexes indicate an open binding mode driven by the Syntaxin N-peptide.

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Division of Chemistry and Structural Biology, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia.


When nerve cells communicate, vesicles from one neuron fuse with the presynaptic membrane releasing chemicals that signal to the next. Similarly, when insulin binds its receptor on adipocytes or muscle, glucose transporter-4 vesicles fuse with the cell membrane, allowing glucose to be imported. These essential processes require the interaction of SNARE proteins on vesicle and cell membranes, as well as the enigmatic protein Munc18 that binds the SNARE protein Syntaxin. Here, we show that in solution the neuronal protein Syntaxin1a interacts with Munc18-1 whether or not the Syntaxin1a N-peptide is present. Conversely, the adipocyte protein Syntaxin4 does not bind its partner Munc18c unless the N-peptide is present. Solution-scattering data for the Munc18-1:Syntaxin1a complex in the absence of the N-peptide indicates that this complex adopts the inhibitory closed binding mode, exemplified by a crystal structure of the complex. However, when the N-peptide is present, the solution-scattering data indicate both Syntaxin1a and Syntaxin4 adopt extended conformations in complexes with their respective Munc18 partners. The low-resolution solution structure of the open Munc18:Syntaxin binding mode was modeled using data from cross-linking/mass spectrometry, small-angle X-ray scattering, and small-angle neutron scattering with contrast variation, indicating significant differences in Munc18:Syntaxin interactions compared with the closed binding mode. Overall, our results indicate that the neuronal Munc18-1:Syntaxin1a proteins can adopt two alternate and functionally distinct binding modes, closed and open, depending on the presence of the N-peptide, whereas Munc18c:Syntaxin4 adopts only the open binding mode.

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