The extracellular, ligand binding regions of ErbB receptors consist of four domains that can assume at least two alternative conformations, extended and locked. The locked conformation, observed in several crystal structures, is held together by a noncovalent intramolecular tether and is incompatible with current models for receptor dimerization and ligand activation. Based on structures of ligand-receptor complexes in the extended conformation, the high affinity ligand binding pocket between domains I and III is disrupted in the locked conformation. Therefore the biological role of the locked conformation is not clear. To address the impact of the locked conformation on ligand binding, we compared extracellular domains of wild-type ErbB3, mutant domains in a constitutively locked or extended conformation and partial extracellular domain constructs. We found that the constitutively locked receptor domains and truncated constructs carrying only domains I-II or III-IV strongly bind ligand, albeit with reduced affinity compared to wild-type receptor. This suggests that the locked conformation cannot be discounted for ligand binding. The significant binding by both partial interfaces in domains I and III also suggests that "partial bivalency" may be the reason for the low nanomolar and high picomolar binding observed for ErbB3 in the respective "low" and high affinity states. In contrast to EGFR (ErbB1), ErbB3 retains high ligand binding affinity at an endosome-comparable pH in both the extended and locked conformations. Ligand affinity for the locked conformation even improves at low pH. For ErbB3, the contribution of domain I to ligand binding is strong and increases at low pH while its contribution is thought to be minimal for EGFR, regardless of pH. This shift in domain contribution and pH dependency provides a mechanistic explanation for some of the divergent properties of EGFR and ErbB3.
ASJC Scopus subject areas