A potential new, stable state of the E-cadherin strand-swapped dimer in solution
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E-cadherin is a transmembrane glycoprotein that facilitates inter-cellular adhesion in the epithelium. The ectodomain of the native structure is comprised of five repeated immunoglobulin-like domains. All E-cadherin crystal structures show the protein in one of three alternative conformations: a monomer, a strand-swapped trans homodimer and the so-called X-dimer, which is proposed to be a kinetic intermediate to forming the strand-swapped trans homodimer. However, previous studies have indicated that even once the trans strand-swapped dimer is formed, the complex is highly dynamic and the E-cadherin monomers may reorient relative to each other. Here, molecular dynamics simulations have been used to investigate the stability and conformational flexibility of the human E-cadherin trans strand-swapped dimer. In four independent, 100 ns simulations, the dimer moved away from the starting structure and converged to a previously unreported structure, which we call the Y-dimer. The Y-dimer was present for over 90% of the combined simulation time, suggesting that it represents a stable conformation of the E-cadherin dimer in solution. The Y-dimer conformation is stabilised by interactions present in both the trans strand-swapped dimer and X-dimer crystal structures, as well as additional interactions not found in any E-cadherin dimer crystal structures. The Y-dimer represents a previously unreported, stable conformation of the human E-cadherin trans strand-swapped dimer and suggests that the available crystal structures do not fully capture the conformations that the human E-cadherin trans homodimer adopts in solution.
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