Research Article

Mechanism of homodimeric cytokine receptor activation and dysregulation by oncogenic mutations

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Science  07 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6478, pp. 643-652
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw3242

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Activated by interaction

Cytokines trigger immune responses when they bind to their cognate receptors. Class I cytokine receptors rely on the associated Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) to initiate signal transduction. There has been debate over whether activation involves ligand-induced dimerization of these receptors or ligand-induced conformational change of preformed dimers. Wilmes et al. imaged cytokine receptors in the plasma membranes of live human cells by single-molecule fluorescence microscopy and observed ligand-induced dimerization. They found that the JAK2 pseudokinase domains contribute to dimerization and that hyperactive JAK2 mutants promote dimerization, consistent with the model that dimerization triggers activation.

Science, this issue p. 643


Homodimeric class I cytokine receptors are assumed to exist as preformed dimers that are activated by ligand-induced conformational changes. We quantified the dimerization of three prototypic class I cytokine receptors in the plasma membrane of living cells by single-molecule fluorescence microscopy. Spatial and spatiotemporal correlation of individual receptor subunits showed ligand-induced dimerization and revealed that the associated Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) dimerizes through its pseudokinase domain. Oncogenic receptor and hyperactive JAK2 mutants promoted ligand-independent dimerization, highlighting the formation of receptor dimers as the switch responsible for signal activation. Atomistic modeling and molecular dynamics simulations based on a detailed energetic analysis of the interactions involved in dimerization yielded a mechanistic blueprint for homodimeric class I cytokine receptor activation and its dysregulation by individual mutations.

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