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J Biol Chem. 2002 Feb 15;277(7):4704-12. Epub 2001 Dec 10.

The single transmembrane domains of ErbB receptors self-associate in cell membranes.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6059, USA.


Members of the epidermal growth factor receptor, or ErbB, family of receptor tyrosine kinases have a single transmembrane (TM) alpha-helix that is usually assumed to play a passive role in ligand-induced dimerization and activation of the receptor. However, recent studies with the epidermal growth factor receptor (ErbB1) and the erythropoietin receptor have indicated that interactions between TM alpha-helices do contribute to stabilization of ligand-independent and/or ligand-induced receptor dimers. In addition, not all of the expected ErbB receptor ligand-induced dimerization events can be recapitulated using isolated extracellular domains, suggesting that other regions of the receptor, such as the TM domain, may contribute to dimerization in vivo. Using an approach for analyzing TM domain interactions in Escherichia coli cell membranes, named TOXCAT, we find that the TM domains of ErbB receptors self-associate strongly in the absence of their extracellular domains, with the rank order ErbB4-TM > ErbB1-TM equivalent to ErbB2-TM > ErbB3-TM. A limited mutational analysis suggests that dimerization of these TM domains involves one or more GXXXG motifs, which occur frequently in the TM domains of receptor tyrosine kinases and are critical for stabilizing the glycophorin A TM domain dimer. We also analyzed the effect of the valine to glutamic acid mutation in ErbB2 that constitutively activates this receptor. Contrary to our expectations, this mutation reduced rather than increased ErbB2-TM dimerization. Our findings suggest a role for TM domain interactions in ErbB receptor function, possibly in stabilizing inactive ligand-independent receptor dimers that have been observed by several groups.

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