Two motifs within a transmembrane domain, one for homodimerization and the other for heterodimerization Academic Article uri icon


  • Protein assembly is a critical process involved in a wide range of cellular events and occurs through extracellular and/or transmembrane domains (TMs). Previous studies demonstrated that a GXXXG motif is crucial for homodimer formation. Here we selected the TMs of ErbB1 and ErbB2 as a model since these receptors function both as homodimers and as heterodimers. Both TMs contain two GXXXG-like motifs located at the C and N termini. The C-terminal motifs were implicated previously in homodimer formation, but the role of the N-terminal motifs was not clear. We used the ToxR system and expressed the TMs of both ErbB1 and ErbB2 containing only the N-terminal GXXXG motifs. The data revealed that the ErbB2 but not the ErbB1 construct formed homodimers. Importantly, a synthetic ErbB1 TM peptide was able to form a heterodimer with ErbB2, by displacing the ErbB2 TM homodimer. The specificity of the interaction was demonstrated by using three controls: (i) Two single mutations within the GXXXG-like motif of the ErbB1 peptide reduced or preserved its activity, in agreement with similar mutations in glycophorin A. (ii) A TM peptide of the bacterial Tar receptor did not assemble with the ErbB2 construct. (iii) The ErbB1 peptide had no effect on the dimerization of a construct containing the TM-1 domain of the Tar receptor. Fluorescence microscopy demonstrated that all the peptides localized on the membrane. Furthermore, incubation with the peptides had no effect on bacterial growth and protein expression levels. Our results suggest that the N-terminal GXXXG-like motif of the ErbB1 TM plays a role in heterodimerization with the ErbB2 transmembrane domain. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a transmembrane domain with two distinct recognition motifs, one for homodimerization and the other for heterodimerization.

publication date

  • January 1, 2004