Crystal Structure of NLRC4 Reveals Its Autoinhibition Mechanism

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Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 172-175
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236381

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Keeping the Inflammasome in Check

Nucleotide-binding and oligomerization domain (NOD)–like receptors (NLRs) play an important role in the detection of pathogens by cells of the innate immune system. For several NLR family members, activation results in relief from autoinhibition, oligomerization, and the recruitment of signaling components that together make up the inflammasome, a large multiprotein complex. The inflammasome protects the host by inducing cell death and cytokine secretion. The specific molecular mechanisms that regulate NLR activation and inhibition, however, are not well understood. Hu et al. (p. 172, published online 13 June) report the crystal structure of autoinhibited NLR family member NLRC4, which reveals the domains that are critical for interaction with adenosine diphosphate to keep NLRC4 in its inactive state and the domains that mediate oligomerization of the protein upon activation.


Nucleotide-binding and oligomerization domain–like receptor (NLR) proteins oligomerize into multiprotein complexes termed inflammasomes when activated. Their autoinhibition mechanism remains poorly defined. Here, we report the crystal structure of mouse NLRC4 in a closed form. The adenosine diphosphate–mediated interaction between the central nucleotide-binding domain (NBD) and the winged-helix domain (WHD) was critical for stabilizing the closed conformation of NLRC4. The helical domain HD2 repressively contacted a conserved and functionally important α-helix of the NBD. The C-terminal leucine-rich repeat (LRR) domain is positioned to sterically occlude one side of the NBD domain and consequently sequester NLRC4 in a monomeric state. Disruption of ADP-mediated NBD-WHD or NBD-HD2/NBD-LRR interactions resulted in constitutive activation of NLRC4. Together, our data reveal the NBD-organized cooperative autoinhibition mechanism of NLRC4 and provide insight into its activation.

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