Unveiling the Molecular Mechanisms Regulating the Activation of the ErbB Family Receptors at Atomic Resolution through Molecular Modeling and Simulations

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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ErbB family
kinase activation
molecular dynamics
hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions
Other Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering
Structural Biology
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The EGFR/ErbB/HER family of kinases contains four homologous receptor tyrosine kinases that are important regulatory elements in key signaling pathways. To elucidate the atomistic mechanisms of dimerization-dependent activation in the ErbB family, we have performed molecular dynamics simulations of the intracellular kinase domains of the four members of the ErbB family (those with known kinase activity), namely EGFR, ErbB2 (HER2) and ErbB4 (HER4) as well as ErbB3 (HER3), an assumed pseudokinase, in different molecular contexts: monomer vs. dimer, wildtype vs. mutant. Using bioinformatics and fluctuation analyses of the molecular dynamics trajectories, we relate sequence similarities to correspondence of specific bond-interaction networks and collective dynamical modes. We find that in the active conformation of the ErbB kinases (except ErbB3), key subdomain motions are coordinated through conserved hydrophilic interactions: activating bond-networks consisting of hydrogen bonds and salt bridges. The inactive conformations also demonstrate conserved bonding patterns (albeit less extensive) that sequester key residues and disrupt the activating bond network. Both conformational states have distinct hydrophobic advantages through context-specific hydrophobic interactions. The inactive ErbB3 kinase domain also shows coordinated motions similar to the active conformations, in line with recent evidence that ErbB3 is a weakly active kinase, though the coordination seems to arise from hydrophobic interactions rather than hydrophilic ones. We show that the functional (activating) asymmetric kinase dimer interface forces a corresponding change in the hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions that characterize the inactivating interaction network, resulting in motion of the αC-helix through allostery. Several of the clinically identified activating kinase mutations of EGFR act in a similar fashion to disrupt the inactivating interaction network. Our molecular dynamics study reveals the asymmetric dimer interface helps progress the ErbB family through the activation pathway using both hydrophilic and hydrophobic interaction. There is a fundamental difference in the sequence of events in EGFR activation compared with that described for the Src kinase Hck.

Ravi Radhakrishnan
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