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Understanding diversity of human innate immunity receptors: analysis of surface features of leucine-rich repeat domains in NLRs and TLRs



The human innate immune system uses a system of extracellular Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and intracellular Nod-like receptors (NLRs) to match the appropriate level of immune response to the level of threat from the current environment. Almost all NLRs and TLRs have a domain consisting of multiple leucine-rich repeats (LRRs), which is believed to be involved in ligand binding. LRRs, found also in thousands of other proteins, form a well-defined "horseshoe"-shaped structural scaffold that can be used for a variety of functions, from binding specific ligands to performing a general structural role. The specific functional roles of LRR domains in NLRs and TLRs are thus defined by their detailed surface features. While experimental crystal structures of four human TLRs have been solved, no structure data are available for NLRs.


We report a quantitative, comparative analysis of the surface features of LRR domains in human NLRs and TLRs, using predicted three-dimensional structures for NLRs. Specifically, we calculated amino acid hydrophobicity, charge, and glycosylation distributions within LRR domain surfaces and assessed their similarity by clustering. Despite differences in structural and genomic organization, comparison of LRR surface features in NLRs and TLRs allowed us to hypothesize about their possible functional similarities. We find agreement between predicted surface similarities and similar functional roles in NLRs and TLRs with known agonists, and suggest possible binding partners for uncharacterized NLRs.


Despite its low resolution, our approach permits comparison of molecular surface features in the absence of crystal structure data. Our results illustrate diversity of surface features of innate immunity receptors and provide hints for function of NLRs whose specific role in innate immunity is yet unknown.

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