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PLoS One. 2014 Sep 9;9(9):e107520. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107520. eCollection 2014.

Species-specific activation of TLR4 by hypoacylated endotoxins governed by residues 82 and 122 of MD-2.

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Department of Biotechnology, National Institute of Chemistry, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Centre of Excellence EN-FIST, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


The Toll-like receptor 4/MD-2 receptor complex recognizes endotoxin, a Gram-negative bacterial cell envelope component. Recognition of the most potent hexaacylated form of endotoxin is mediated by the sixth acyl chain that protrudes from the MD-2 hydrophobic pocket and bridges TLR4/MD-2 to the neighboring TLR4 ectodomain, driving receptor dimerization via hydrophobic interactions. In hypoacylated endotoxins all acyl chains could be accommodated within the binding pocket of the human hMD-2. Nevertheless, tetra- and pentaacylated endotoxins activate the TLR4/MD-2 receptor of several species. We observed that amino acid residues 82 and 122, located at the entrance to the endotoxin binding site of MD-2, have major influence on the species-specific endotoxin recognition. We show that substitution of hMD-2 residue V82 with an amino acid residue with a bulkier hydrophobic side chain enables activation of TLR4/MD-2 by pentaacylated and tetraacylated endotoxins. Interaction of the lipid A phosphate group with the amino acid residue 122 of MD-2 facilitates the appropriate positioning of the hypoacylated endotoxin. Moreover, mouse TLR4 contributes to the agonistic effect of pentaacylated msbB endotoxin. We propose a molecular model that explains how the molecular differences between the murine or equine MD-2, which both have sufficiently large hydrophobic pockets to accommodate all five or four acyl chains, influence the positioning of endotoxin so that one of the acyl chains remains outside the pocket and enables hydrophobic interactions with TLR4, leading to receptor activation.

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