Nerve growth factor: structure and function
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Neurotrophins are critical for the development and maintenance of the peripheral and central nervous system. These highly homologous, homodimeric growth factors control cell survival, differentiation, growth cessation, and apoptosis of sensory neurons. The biological functions of the neurotrophins are mediated through two classes of cell surface receptors, the Trk receptors and the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR). Nerve growth factor (NGF), the best characterized member of the neurotrophin family, sends its survival signals through activation of TrkA and can induce cell death by binding to p75NTR. Recent domain deletion and mutagenesis studies have identified the membrane-proximal domain of the Trks as necessary and sufficient for ligand binding. Crystal structures of this domain of TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC, and an alanine scanning analysis of this domain of TrkA and TrkC have allowed identification of the ligand- binding site. The recent crystal structure of the complex between NGF and the ligand-binding domain of TrkA defines the orientation of NGF in the signaling complex, and eludicates the structural basis for binding and specificity in the family. Further structural work on NGF-TrkA- p7SNTR complexes will be necessary to address the many remaining questions in this complex signaling system.
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