Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, 68:3469

Cistrans interactions of cell surface receptors: biological roles and structural basis

Multi-author review

DOI: 10.1007/s00018-011-0798-z

Cite this article as:
Held, W. & Mariuzza, R.A. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. (2011) 68: 3469. doi:10.1007/s00018-011-0798-z


Cell surface receptors bind ligands expressed on other cells (in trans) in order to communicate with neighboring cells. However, an increasing number of cell surface receptors are found to also interact with ligands expressed on the same cell (in cis). These observations raise questions regarding the biological role of such cis interactions. Specifically, it is important to know whether cis and trans binding have distinct functional effects and, if so, how a single cell discriminates between interactions in cis versus trans. Further, what are the structural features that allow certain cell surface receptors to engage ligand both on the same as well as on an apposed cell membrane? Here, we summarize known examples of receptors that display cistrans binding and discuss the emerging diversity of biological roles played by these unconventional two-way interactions, along with their structural basis.


NK cell receptorLy49LILRB/PIR-BMHCNotchCis interactionTrans interactionNK cell education



B cell receptor


B and T lymphocyte attenuator


Herpesvirus entry mediator




Leukocyte immunoglobulin-like receptor B


Major histocompatibility complex class I


Paired immunoglobulin-like receptor-B


Sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-like lectin

Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ludwig Center for Cancer Research of the University of LausanneEpalingesSwitzerland
  2. 2.University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology ResearchRockvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Cell Biology and Molecular GeneticsUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA