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Biochemistry. 2012 Jun 26;51(25):5033-40. doi: 10.1021/bi201747t. Epub 2012 Jun 13.

Dimerization of the transmembrane domain of human tetherin in membrane mimetic environments.

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Molecular Structure and Function Programme, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Ave., Toronto, ON M5G 1X8, Canada.


Tetherin/Bst-2 is a cell surface protein that can act as a restriction factor against a number of enveloped viruses, including HIV-1. It acts by tethering new virus particles to the host cell membrane, promoting their internalization and degradation. Tetherin is a type II membrane protein, with an N-terminal transmembrane domain, an extracellular coiled-coil domain, and a C-terminal GPI anchor. This double membrane anchor is important for anti-HIV activity, as is dimerization of the coiled-coil domain, but despite recent crystal structures of the coiled-coil ectodomains of human and mouse tetherin, the topology of tetherin with respect to host and viral membranes has yet to be determined. The tetherin transmembrane domain is also thought to mediate interactions with the HIV-1 encoded integral membrane protein Vpu, which is an antagonist of tetherin, through direct binding to the transmembrane region of Vpu. Using a combination of SDS-PAGE, size exclusion chromatography, and pyrene excimer fluorescence, we show that in the absence of the coiled-coil domain the transmembrane domain of human tetherin forms parallel homodimers in membrane mimetic environments. Transmembrane domain dimerization does not require disulfide bond formation and is favored in TFE, SDS micelles, and POPC liposomes. This observation has implications for functional models of tetherin, suggesting that both transmembrane domains in the dimeric molecule are inserted into the same lipid bilayer, rather than into opposing membranes.

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