(2022) Nature (London). Abstract
Lassa virus (LASV) is a human pathogen, causing substantial morbidity and mortality1,2. Similar to other Arenaviridae, it presents a class-I spike complex on its surface that facilitates cell entry. The virus’s cellular receptor is matriglycan, a linear carbohydrate that is present on α-dystroglycan3,4, but the molecular mechanism that LASV uses to recognize this glycan is unknown. In addition, LASV and other arenaviruses have a unique signal peptide that forms an integral and functionally important part of the mature spike5,6,7,8; yet the structure, function and topology of the signal peptide in the membrane remain uncertain9,10,11. Here we solve the structure of a complete native LASV spike complex, finding that the signal peptide crosses the membrane once and that its amino terminus is located in the extracellular region. Together with a double-sided domain-switching mechanism, the signal peptide helps to stabilize the spike complex in its native conformation. This structure reveals that the LASV spike complex is preloaded with matriglycan, suggesting the mechanism of binding and rationalizing receptor recognition by α-dystroglycan-tropic arenaviruses. This discovery further informs us about the mechanism of viral egress and may facilitate the rational design of novel therapeutics that exploit this binding site.
(2021) Journal of Molecular Biology. 433, 15, 167099. Abstract[All authors]
Glycans decorate the cell surface, secreted glycoproteins and glycolipids, and altered glycans are often found in cancers. Despite their high diagnostic and therapeutic potential, however, glycans are polar and flexible molecules that are quite challenging for the development and design of high-affinity binding antibodies. To understand the mechanisms by which glycan neoantigens are specifically recognized by antibodies, we analyze the biomolecular recognition of the tumor-associated carbohydrate antigen CA19-9 by two distinct antibodies using X-ray crystallography. Despite the potential plasticity of glycans and the very different antigen-binding surfaces presented by the antibodies, both structures reveal an essentially identical extended CA19-9 conformer, suggesting that this conformer’s stability selects the antibodies. Starting from the bound structure of one of the antibodies, we use the AbLIFT computational algorithm to design a variant with seven core mutations in the variable domain’s light-heavy chain interface that exhibits tenfold improved affinity for CA19-9. The results reveal strategies used by antibodies to specifically recognize glycan antigens and show how automated antibody-optimization methods may be used to enhance the clinical potential of existing antibodies.
Cross-reactive antibodies against human coronaviruses and the animal coronavirome suggest diagnostics for future zoonotic spillovers(2021) Science immunology. 6, 61, eabe9950. Abstract[All authors]
The spillover of animal coronaviruses (aCoVs) to humans has caused SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. Although antibody responses displaying cross-reactivity between SARS-CoV-2 and seasonal/common cold human coronaviruses (hCoVs) have been reported, potential cross-reactivity with aCoVs and the diagnostic implications are incompletely understood. Here, we probed for antibody binding against all 7 hCoVs and 49 aCoVs represented as 12,924 peptides within a phage-displayed antigen library. Antibody repertoires of 269 recovered patients with COVID-19 showed distinct changes compared with 260 unexposed prepandemic controls, not limited to binding of SARS-CoV-2 antigens but including binding to antigens from hCoVs and aCoVs with shared motifs to SARS-CoV-2. We isolated broadly reactive monoclonal antibodies from recovered patients with COVID-19 who bind a shared motif of SARS-CoV-2, hCoV-OC43, hCoV-HKU1, and several aCoVs, demonstrating that interspecies cross-reactivity can be mediated by a single immunoglobulin. Using antibody binding data against the entire CoV antigen library allowed accurate discrimination of recovered patients with COVID-19 from unexposed individuals by machine learning. Leaving out SARS-CoV-2 antigens and relying solely on antibody binding to other hCoVs and aCoVs achieved equally accurate detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection without knowledge of its unique antigens solely from cross-reactive antibody responses against other hCoVs and aCoVs suggests a potential diagnostic strategy for the early stage of future pandemics. Creating regularly updated antigen libraries representing the animal coronavirome can provide the basis for a serological assay already poised to identify infected individuals after a future zoonotic transmission event.
(2020) Cell. 183, 3, p. 717-729.e16 Abstract[All authors]
The respiratory and intestinal tracts are exposed to physical and biological hazards accompanying the intake of air and food. Likewise, the vasculature is threatened by inflammation and trauma. Mucin glycoproteins and the related von Willebrand factor guard the vulnerable cell layers in these diverse systems. Colon mucins additionally house and feed the gut microbiome. Here, we present an integrated structural analysis of the intestinal mucin MUC2. Our findings reveal the shared mechanism by which complex macromolecules responsible for blood clotting, mucociliary clearance, and the intestinal mucosal barrier form protective polymers and hydrogels. Specifically, cryo-electron microscopy and crystal structures show how disulfide-rich bridges and pH-tunable interfaces control successive assembly steps in the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus. Remarkably, a densely O-glycosylated mucin domain performs an organizational role in MUC2. The mucin assembly mechanism and its adaptation for hemostasis provide the foundation for rational manipulation of barrier function and coagulation.
(2020) Cancers. 12, 10, 2824. Abstract[All authors]
Glycosylation patterns commonly change in cancer, resulting in expression of tumor-associated carbohydrate antigens (TACA). While promising, currently available anti-glycan antibodies are not useful for clinical cancer therapy. Here, we show that potent anti-glycan antibodies can be engineered to acquire cancer therapeutic efficacy. We designed yeast surface display to generate and select for therapeutic antibodies against the TACA SLea (CA19−9) in colon and pancreatic cancers. Elite clones showed increased affinity, better specificity, improved binding of human pancreatic and colon cancer cell lines, and increased complement-dependent therapeutic efficacy. Molecular modeling explained the structural basis for improved antibody functionality at the molecular level. These new tools of directed molecular evolution and selection for effective anti-glycan antibodies, provide insights into the mechanisms of cancer therapy targeting glycosylation, and provide major methodological advances that are likely to open up innovative avenues of research in the field of cancer theranostics.
Longitudinal Isolation of Potent Near-Germline SARS-CoV-2-Neutralizing Antibodies from COVID-19 Patients(2020) Cell. 182, 4, p. 843-854 Abstract[All authors]
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has unprecedented implications for public health, social life, and the world economy. Because approved drugs and vaccines are limited or not available, new options for COVID-19 treatment and prevention are in high demand. To identify SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies, we analyzed the antibody response of 12 COVID-19 patients from 8 to 69 days after diagnosis. By screening 4,313 SARS-CoV-2-reactive B cells, we isolated 255 antibodies from different time points as early as 8 days after diagnosis. Of these, 28 potently neutralized authentic SARS-CoV-2 with IC100 as low as 0.04 mu g/mL, showing a broad spectrum of variable (V) genes and low levels of somatic mutations. Interestingly, potential precursor sequences were identified in naive B cell repertoires from 48 healthy individuals who were sampled before the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies are readily generated from a diverse pool of precursors, fostering hope for rapid induction of a protective immune response upon vaccination.
(2020) Cell Host & Microbe. 27, 3, p. 418-427 Abstract
Ebola virus disease is a severe health problem in Africa. Vaccines that display the Zaire ebolavirus glycoprotein spike complex are a prime component for the effort to combat it. The V(H)3-15/V(lambda)1-40-based class of antibodies was recently discovered to be a common response in individuals who received the Ebola virus vaccines. These antibodies display attractive properties, and thus likely contribute to the efficacy of the vaccines. Here, we use cryo-EM to elucidate how three V(H)3-15/V(lambda)1-40 antibodies from different individuals target the virus and found a convergent mechanism against a partially conserved site on the spike complex. Our study rationalizes the selection of the V(H)3-15/V(lambda)1-40 germline genes for specifically targeting this site and highlights Ebolavirus species-specific sequence divergences that may restrict breadth of V(H)3-15/V(lambda)1-40-based humoral response. The results from this study could help develop improved immunization schemes and further enable the design of immunogens that would be efficacious against a broader set of Ebolavirus species.
(2020) Nature Communications. 11, 1, 67. Abstract[All authors]
Certain arenaviruses that circulate in rodent populations can cause life-threatening hemorrhagic fevers when they infect humans. Due to their efficient transmission, arenaviruses pose a severe risk for outbreaks and might be exploited as biological weapons. Effective countermeasures against these viruses are highly desired. Ideally, a single remedy would be effective against many or even all the pathogenic viruses in this family. However, despite the fact that all pathogenic arenaviruses from South America utilize transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1) as a cellular receptor, their viral glycoproteins are highly diversified, impeding efforts to isolate cross-neutralizing antibodies. Here we address this problem using a rational design approach to target TfR1-tropic arenaviruses with high potency and breadth. The pan-reactive molecule is highly effective against all arenaviruses that were tested, offering a universal therapeutic approach. Our design scheme avoids the shortcomings of previous immunoadhesins and can be used to combat other zoonotic pathogens.
(2019) Nature Medicine. 25, 10, p. 1589-1600 Abstract[All authors]
Recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus-Zaire Ebola virus (rVSV-ZEBOV) is the most advanced Ebola virus vaccine candidate and is currently being used to combat the outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Here we examine the humoral immune response in a subset of human volunteers enrolled in a phase 1 rVSV-ZEBOV vaccination trial by performing comprehensive single B cell and electron microscopy structure analyses. Four studied vaccinees show polyclonal, yet reproducible and convergent B cell responses with shared sequence characteristics. EBOV-targeting antibodies cross-react with other Ebolavirus species, and detailed epitope mapping revealed overlapping target epitopes with antibodies isolated from EVD survivors. Moreover, in all vaccinees, we detected highly potent EBOV-neutralizing antibodies with activities comparable or superior to the monoclonal antibodies currently used in clinical trials. These include antibodies combining the IGHV3-15/IGLV1-40 immunoglobulin gene segments that were identified in all investigated individuals. Our findings will help to evaluate and direct current and future vaccination strategies and offer opportunities for novel EVD therapies.
(2019) Journal of Molecular Biology. 431, 19, p. 3740-3752 Abstract
The mucin 2 glycoprotein assembles into a complex hydrogel that protects intestinal epithelia and houses the gut microbiome. A major step in mucin 2 assembly is further multimerization of preformed mucin dimers, thought to produce a honeycomb-like arrangement upon hydrogel expansion. Important open questions are how multiple mucin 2 dimers become covalently linked to one another and how mucin 2 multimerization compares with analogous processes in related polymers such as respiratory tract mucins and the hemostasis protein von Willebrand factor. Here we report the x-ray crystal structure of the mucin 2 multimerization module, found to form a dimer linked by two intersubunit disulfide bonds. The dimer structure calls into question the current model for intestinal mucin assembly, which proposes disulfide-mediated trimerization of the same module. Key residues making interactions across the dimer interface are highly conserved in intestinal mucin orthologs, supporting the physiological relevance of the observed quaternary structure. With knowledge of the interface residues, it can be demonstrated that many of these amino acids are also present in other mucins and in von Willebrand factor, further indicating that the stable dimer arrangement reported herein is likely to be shared across this functionally broad protein family. The mucin 2 module structure thus reveals the manner by which both mucins and von Willebrand factor polymerize, drawing deep structural parallels between macromolecular assemblies critical to mucosal epithelia and the vasculature.
Optimizing antibody affinity and stability by the automated design of the variable light-heavy chain interfaces(2019) PLoS Computational Biology. 15, 8, e1007207. Abstract
Antibodies developed for research and clinical applications may exhibit suboptimal stability, expressibility, or affinity. Existing optimization strategies focus on surface mutations, whereas natural affinity maturation also introduces mutations in the antibody core, simultaneously improving stability and affinity. To systematically map the mutational tolerance of an antibody variable fragment (Fv), we performed yeast display and applied deep mutational scanning to an anti-lysozyme antibody and found that many of the affinity-enhancing mutations clustered at the variable light-heavy chain interface, within the antibody core. Rosetta design combined enhancing mutations, yielding a variant with tenfold higher affinity and substantially improved stability. To make this approach broadly accessible, we developed AbLIFT, an automated web server that designs multipoint core mutations to improve contacts between specific Fv light and heavy chains (http://AbLIFT.weizmann.ac.il). We applied AbLIFT to two unrelated antibodies targeting the human antigens VEGF and QSOX1. Strikingly, the designs improved stability, affinity, and expression yields. The results provide proof-of-principle for bypassing laborious cycles of antibody engineering through automated computational affinity and stability design.[All authors]
Variations in Core Packing of GP2 from Old World Mammarenaviruses in their Post-Fusion Conformations Affect Membrane-Fusion Efficiencies(2019) Journal of Molecular Biology. 431, 11, p. 2095-2111 Abstract
Lassa virus (LASV)is a notorious human pathogen in West Africa. Its class I trimeric spike complex displays a distinct architecture, and its cell entry mechanism involves unique attributes not shared by other related viruses. We determined the crystal structure of the GP2 fusion glycoprotein from the spike complex of LASV (GP2
)in its post-fusion conformation. GP2
adopts a canonical helical bundle configuration similarly to other viruses in its family. The core packing of GP2
, however, is more organized compared to GP2 from other viruses reducing the formation of internal hydrophobic cavities. We demonstrate a link between the formation of such unfavorable hydrophobic cavities and the efficiencies of membrane fusion and cell entry. Our study suggests that LASV has evolved a more efficient membrane fusogen compared to other viruses from its family by optimizing the post-fusion configuration of its GP2 module.
Differential antibody-based immune response against isolated GP1 receptor-binding domains from Lassa and Junín viruses(2019) Journal of Virology. 93, 8, e00090-19. Abstract
There are two predominant subgroups in the Arenaviridae family of viruses, the Old World and the New World viruses, that use distinct cellular receptors for entry. While New World viruses typically elicit good neutralizing antibody responses, the Old World viruses generally evade such responses. Antibody-based immune responses are directed against the glycoprotein spike complexes that decorate the viruses. A thick coat of glycans reduces the accessibility of antibodies to the surface of spike complexes from Old World viruses, but other mechanisms may further hamper the development of efficient humoral responses. Specifically, it was suggested that the GP1 receptor-binding module of the Old World Lassa virus might help with evasion of the humoral response. Here we investigated the immunogenicity of the GP1 domain from Lassa virus and compared it to that of the GP1 domain from the New World Junín virus. We found striking differences in the ability of antibodies that were developed against these immunogens to target the same GP1 receptor-binding domains in the context of the native spike complexes. Whereas GP1 from Junín virus elicited productive neutralizing responses, GP1 from Lassa virus elicited only nonproductive responses. These differences can be rationalized by the conformational changes that GP1 from Lassa virus but not GP1 from Junín virus undergoes after dissociating from the trimeric spike complex. Hence, shedding of GP1 in the case of Lassa virus can indeed serve as a mechanism to subvert the humoral immune response. Moreover, the realization that a recombinant protein may be used to elicit a productive response against the New World Junín virus may suggest a novel and safe way to design future vaccines. IMPORTANCE Some viruses that belong to the Arenaviridae family, like Lassa and Junín viruses, are notorious human pathogens, which may lead to fatal outcomes when they infect people. It is thus important to develop means to combat these viruses. For developing effective vaccines, it is vital to understand the basic mechanisms that these viruses utilize in order to evade or overcome host immune responses. It was previously noted that the GP1 receptor-binding domain from Lassa virus is shed and accumulates in the serum of infected individuals. This raised the possibility that Lassa virus GP1 may function as an immunological decoy. Here we demonstrate that mice develop nonproductive immune responses against GP1 from Lassa virus, which is in contrast to the effective neutralizing responses that GP1 from Junín virus elicits. Thus, GP1 from Lassa virus is indeed an immunological decoy and GP1 from Junín virus may serve as a constituent of a future vaccine.
(2018) Communications Biology. 1, 213. Abstract
Characterization of overexpressed proteins is essential for assessing their quality, and providing input for iterative redesign and optimization. This process is typically carried out following purification procedures that require pronounced cost of time and labor. Therefore, quality assessment of recombinant proteins with no prior purification offers a major advantage. Here, we report a native mass spectrometry method that enables characterization of overproduced proteins directly from culture media. Properties such as solubility, molecular weight, folding, assembly state, overall structure, post-translational modifications and binding to relevant biomolecules are immediately revealed. We show the applicability of the method for in-depth characterization of secreted recombinant proteins from eukaryotic systems such as yeast, insect, and human cells. This method, which can be readily extended to high-throughput analysis, considerably shortens the time gap between protein production and characterization, and is particularly suitable for characterizing engineered and mutated proteins, and optimizing yield and quality of overexpressed proteins.[All authors]
(2018) Nature Microbiology. 3, 10, p. 1153-1160 Abstract
Lujo virus (LUJV) has emerged as a highly fatal human pathogen. Despite its membership among the Arenaviridae, LUJV does not classify with the known Old and New World groups of that viral family. Likewise, LUJV was recently found to use neuropilin-2 (NRP2) as a cellular receptor instead of the canonical receptors used by Old World and New World arenaviruses. The emergence of a deadly pathogen into human populations using an unprecedented entry route raises many questions regarding the mechanism of cell recognition. To provide the basis for combating LUJV in particular, and to increase our general understanding of the molecular changes that accompany an evolutionary switch to a new receptor for arenaviruses, we used X-ray crystallography to reveal how the GP1 receptor-binding domain of LUJV (LUJVGP1) recognizes NRP2. Structural data show that LUJVGP1 is more similar to Old World than to New World arenaviruses. Structural analysis supported by experimental validation further suggests that NRP2 recognition is metal-ion dependent and that the complete NRP2 binding site is formed in the context of the trimeric spike. Taken together, our data provide the mechanism for the cell attachment step of LUJV and present indispensable information for combating this phatogen.
Expression of a recombinant, 4'-Phosphopantetheinylated, active M. tuberculosis fatty acid synthase I in E. coli(2018) PLoS ONE. 9, e0204457. Abstract
Fatty acid synthase 1 (FAS I) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is an essential protein and a promising drug target. FAS I is a multi-functional, multi-domain protein that is organized as a large (1.9 MDa) homohexameric complex. Acyl intermediates produced during fatty acid elongation are attached covalently to an acyl carrier protein (ACP) domain. This domain is activated by the transfer of a 4'-Phosphopantetheine (4'-PP, also termed P-pant) group from CoA to ACP catalyzed by a 4'-PP transferase, termed acyl carrier protein synthase (AcpS). In order to obtain an activated FAS I in E. coli, we transformed E. coli with tagged Mtb fas1 and acpS genes encoded by a separate plasmid. We induced the expression of Mtb FAS I following induction of AcpS expression. FAS I was purified by Strep-Tactin affinity chromatography. Activation of Mtb FAS I was confirmed by the identification of a bound P-pant group on serine at position 1808 by mass spectrometry. The purified FAS I displayed biochemical activity shown by spectrophotometric analysis of NADPH oxidation and by CoA production, using the Ellman reaction. The purified Mtb FAS I forms a hexameric complex shown by negative staining and cryo-EM. Purified hexameric and active Mtb FAS I is required for binding and drug inhibition studies and for structure-function analysis of this enzyme. This relatively simple and short procedure for Mtb FAS I production should facilitate studies of this enzyme.[All authors]
(2018) Nature Communications. 9, 3886. Abstract
Tuberculosis (TB) is a devastating and rapidly spreading disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). Therapy requires prolonged treatment with a combination of multiple agents and interruptions in the treatment regimen result in emergence and spread of multidrug resistant (MDR) Mtb strains. MDR Mtb poses a significant global health problem, calling for urgent development of novel drugs to combat TB. Here, we report the 3.3 angstrom resolution structure of the similar to 2 MDa type-I fatty acid synthase (FAS-I) from Mtb, determined by single particle cryo-EM. Mtb FAS-I is an essential enzymatic complex that contributes to the virulence of Mtb, and thus a prime target for anti-TB drugs. The structural information for Mtb FAS-I we have obtained enables computer-based drug discovery approaches, and the resolution achieved by cryo-EM is sufficient for elucidating inhibition mechanisms by putative small molecular weight inhibitors.
(2018) Proteins-Structure Function And Bioinformatics. 86, p. 27-50 Abstract
The functional and biological significance of the selected CASP12 targets are described by the authors of the structures. The crystallographers discuss the most interesting structural features of the target proteins and assess whether these features were correctly reproduced in the predictions submitted to the CASP12 experiment.[All authors]
(2017) Journal of Molecular Biology. 429, 18, p. 2825-2839 Abstract
Whitewater Arroyo virus belongs to the "New World" group of mammarenaviruses that reside in rodent reservoirs and are prevalent in North and South Americas. Clades B and NB of New World mammarenaviruses use transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1) for entry. While all of these viruses use rodent-derived TfR1 orthologs, some can also use the human-TfR1 and thereby infect humans. Although we have structural information for TfR1 recognition by pathogenic virus, we do not know what the structural differences are between the receptor-binding domains of pathogenic and non-pathogenic viruses that allow some but not all viruses to utilize the human receptor for entry. The poor understanding of the molecular determinants of mammarenavirus host range, and thus pathogenicity, is partly due to the low sequence similarity between the receptor-binding domains from these viruses and the limited available structural information that preclude the use of modeling approaches. Here we present the first crystal structure of a receptor-binding domain of a non-pathogenic Glade NB mammarenavirus. This structure reveals the magnitude of structural differences within the receptor-binding domains of TfR1-tropic viruses. Our structural and sequence analyses indicate that the same structural incompatibilities with the human receptor equally affect both pathogenic and non-pathogenic mammarenaviruses. Non-pathogenic viruses do not have specific structural elements that prevent them from using the human receptor. Instead, the ability to utilize the human receptor directly depends on the extent of weak interactions throughout the receptor-binding site that in some viruses are sufficiently strong to overcome the structural incompatibilities. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Mapping of the Lassa virus LAMP1 binding site reveals unique determinants not shared by other old world arenaviruses(2017) PLoS Pathogens. 13, 4, e1006337. Abstract
Cell entry of many enveloped viruses occurs by engagement with cellular receptors, followed by internalization into endocytic compartments and pH-induced membrane fusion. A previously unnoticed step of receptor switching was found to be critical during cell entry of two devastating human pathogens: Ebola and Lassa viruses. Our recent studies revealed the functional role of receptor switching to LAMP1 for triggering membrane fusion by Lassa virus and showed the involvement of conserved histidines in this switching, suggesting that other viruses from this family may also switch to LAMP1. However, when we investigated viruses that are genetically close to Lassa virus, we discovered that they cannot bind LAMP1. A crystal structure of the receptor-binding module from Morogoro virus revealed structural differences that allowed mapping of the LAMP1 binding site to a unique set of Lassa residues not shared by other viruses in its family, illustrating a key difference in the cell-entry mechanism of Lassa virus that may contribute to its pathogenicity.
(2016) Journal of Virology. 90, 22, p. 10329-10338 Abstract
To effectively infect cells, Lassa virus needs to switch in an endosomal compartment from its primary receptor, alpha-dystroglycan, to a protein termed LAMP1. A unique histidine triad on the surface of the receptor-binding domain from the glycoprotein spike complex of Lassa virus is important for LAMP1 binding. Here we investigate mutated spikes that have an impaired ability to interact with LAMP1 and show that although LAMP1 is important for efficient infectivity, it is not required for spike-mediated membrane fusion per se. Our studies reveal important regulatory roles for histidines from the triad in sensing acidic pH and preventing premature spike triggering. We further show that LAMP1 requires a positively charged His230 residue to engage with the spike complex and that LAMP1 binding promotes membrane fusion. These results elucidate the molecular role of LAMP1 binding during Lassa virus cell entry and provide new insights into how pH is sensed by the spike.
(2015) Journal of Virology. 89, 15, p. 7584-7592 Abstract
Lassa virus is a notorious human pathogen that infects many thousands of people each year in West Africa, causing severe viral hemorrhagic fevers and significant mortality. The surface glycoprotein of Lassa virus mediates receptor recognition through its GP1 subunit. Here we report the crystal structure of GP1 from Lassa virus, which is the first representative GP1 structure for Old World arenaviruses. We identify a unique triad of histidines that forms a binding site for LAMP1, a known lysosomal protein recently discovered to be a critical receptor for internalized Lassa virus at acidic pH. We demonstrate that mutation of this histidine triad, which is highly conserved among Old World arenaviruses, impairs LAMP1 recognition. Our biochemical and structural data further suggest that GP1 from Lassa virus may undergo irreversible conformational changes that could serve as an immunological decoy mechanism. Together with a variable region that we identify on the surface of GP1, those could be two distinct mechanisms that Lassa virus utilizes to avoid antibody-based immune response. IMPORTANCE Structural data at atomic resolution for viral proteins is key for understanding their function at the molecular level and can facilitate novel avenues for combating viral infections. Here we used X-ray protein crystallography to decipher the crystal structure of the receptor-binding domain (GP1) from Lassa virus. This is a pathogenic virus that causes significant illness and mortality in West Africa. This structure reveals the overall architecture of GP1 domains from the group of viruses known as the Old World arenaviruses. Using this structural information, we elucidated the mechanisms for pH switch and binding of Lassa virus to LAMP1, a recently identified host receptor that is critical for successful infection. Lastly, our structural analysis suggests two novel immune evasion mechanisms that Lassa virus may utilize to escape antibody-based immune response.
Passive transfer of modest titers of potent and broadly neutralizing anti-HIV monoclonal antibodies block SHIV infection in macaques(2014) Journal of Experimental Medicine. 211, 10, p. 2061-2074 Abstract[All authors]
It is widely appreciated that effective human vaccines directed against viral pathogens elicit neutralizing antibodies (NAbs). The passive transfer of anti-HIV-1 NAbs conferring sterilizing immunity to macaques has been used to determine the plasma neutralization titers, which must be present at the time of exposure, to prevent acquisition of SIV/HIV chimeric virus (SHIV) infections. We administered five recently isolated potent and broadly acting anti-HIV neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to rhesus macaques and challenged them intrarectally 24 h later with either of two different R5-tropic SHIVs. By combining the results obtained from 60 challenged animals, we determined that the protective neutralization titer in plasma preventing virus infection in 50% of the exposed monkeys was relatively modest (similar to 1:100) and potentially achievable by vaccination.
(2013) Journal of Experimental Medicine. 210, 6, p. 1235-1249 Abstract[All authors]
Recently identified broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) that potently neutralize most HIV-1 strains are key to potential antibody-based therapeutic approaches to combat HIV/AIDS in the absence of an effective vaccine. Increasing bNAb potencies and resistance to common routes of HIV-1 escape through mutation would facilitate their use as therapeutics. We previously used structure-based design to create the bNAb NIH45-46(G54W), which exhibits superior potency and/or breadth compared with other bNAbs. We report new, more effective NIH45-46(G54W) variants designed using analyses of the NIH45-46-gp120 complex structure and sequences of NIH45-46(G54W)-resistant HIV-1 strains. One variant, 45-46m2, neutralizes 96% of HIV-1 strains in a cross-clade panel and viruses isolated from an HIV-infected individual that are resistant to all other known bNAbs, making it the single most broad and potent anti-HIV-1 antibody to date. A description of its mechanism is presented based on a 45-46m2-gp120 crystal structure. A second variant, 45-46m7, designed to thwart HIV-1 resistance to NIH45-46(G54W) arising from mutations in a gp120 consensus sequence, targets a common route of HIV-1 escape. In combination, 45-46m2 and 45-46m7 reduce the possible routes for the evolution of fit viral escape mutants in HIV-1(YU-2)-infected humanized mice, with viremic control exhibited when a third antibody, 10-1074, was added to the combination.
Structural basis for HIV-1 gp120 recognition by a germ-line version of a broadly neutralizing antibody(2013) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110, 15, p. 6049-6054 Abstract
Efforts to design an effective antibody-based vaccine against HIV-1 would benefit from understanding how germ-line B-cell receptors (BCRs) recognize the HIV-1 gp120/gp41 envelope spike. Potent VRC01-like (PVL) HIV-1 antibodies derived from the VH1-2*02 germ-line allele target the conserved CD4 binding site on gp120. A bottle-neck for design of immunogens capable of eliciting PVL antibodies is that VH1-2*02 germ-line BCR interactions with gp120 are uncharacterized. Here, we report the structure of a VH1-2*02 germ-line antibody alone and a germ-line heavy-chain/mature light-chain chimeric antibody complexed with HIV-1 gp120. VH1-2*02 residues make extensive contacts with the gp120 outer domain, including all PVL signature and CD4 mimicry interactions, but not critical CDRH3 contacts with the gp120 inner domain and bridging sheet that are responsible for the improved potency of NIH45-46 over closely related clonal variants, such as VRC01. Our results provide insight into initial recognition of HIV-1 by VH1-2*02 germ-line BCRs and may facilitate the design of immunogens tailored to engage and stimulate broad and potent CD4 binding site antibodies.
Somatic Mutations of the Immunoglobulin Framework Are Generally Required for Broad and Potent HIV-1 Neutralization(2013) Cell. 153, 1, p. 126-138 Abstract[All authors]
Broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) to HIV-1 can prevent infection and are therefore of great importance for HIV-1 vaccine design. Notably, bNAbs are highly somatically mutated and generated by a fraction of HIV-1-infected individuals several years after infection. Antibodies typically accumulate mutations in the complementarity determining region (CDR) loops, which usually contact the antigen. The CDR loops are scaffolded by canonical framework regions (FWRs) that are both resistant to and less tolerant of mutations. Here, we report that in contrast to most antibodies, including those with limited HIV-1 neutralizing activity, most bNAbs require somatic mutations in their FWRs. Structural and functional analyses reveal that somatic mutations in FWR residues enhance breadth and potency by providing increased flexibility and/or direct antigen contact. Thus, in bNAbs, FWRs play an essential role beyond scaffolding the CDR loops and their unusual contribution to potency and breadth should be considered in HIV-1 vaccine design.
(2013) PLoS Pathogens. 9, 1, e1003106. Abstract[All authors]
Vaccine candidates for HIV-1 so far have not been able to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) although they express the epitopes recognized by bNAbs to the HIV envelope glycoprotein (Env). To understand whether and how Env immunogens interact with the predicted germline versions of known bNAbs, we screened a large panel (N:56) of recombinant Envs (from clades A, B and C) for binding to the germline predecessors of the broadly neutralizing anti-CD4 binding site antibodies b12, NIH45-46 and 3BNC60. Although the mature antibodies reacted with diverse Envs, the corresponding germline antibodies did not display Env-reactivity. Experiments conducted with engineered chimeric antibodies combining the mature and germline heavy and light chains, respectively and vice-versa, revealed that both antibody chains are important for the known cross-reactivity of these antibodies. Our results also indicate that in order for b12 to display its broad cross-reactivity, multiple somatic mutations within its VH region are required. A consequence of the failure of the germline b12 to bind recombinant soluble Env is that Env-induced B-cell activation through the germline b12 BCR does not take place. Our study provides a new explanation for the difficulties in eliciting bNAbs with recombinant soluble Env immunogens. Our study also highlights the need for intense efforts to identify rare naturally occurring or engineered Envs that may engage the germline BCR versions of bNAbs.
(2012) Nature. 492, 7427, p. 118-+ Abstract[All authors]
Human antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) can neutralize a broad range of viral isolates in vitro and protect non-human primates against infection(1,2). Previous work showed that antibodies exert selective pressure on the virus but escape variants emerge within a short period of time(3,4). However, these experiments were performed before the recent discovery of more potent anti-HIV-1 antibodies and their improvement by structure-based design(5-9). Here we re-examine passive antibody transfer as a therapeutic modality in HIV-1-infected humanized mice. Although HIV-1 can escape from antibody monotherapy, combinations of broadly neutralizing antibodies can effectively control HIV-1 infection and suppress viral load to levels below detection. Moreover, in contrast to antiretroviral therapy(10-12), the longer half-life of antibodies led to control of viraemia for an average of 60 days after cessation of therapy. Thus, combinations of potent monoclonal antibodies can effectively control HIV-1 replication in humanized mice, and should be re-examined as a therapeutic modality in HIV-1-infected individuals.
(2012) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 109, 39, p. 15859-15864 Abstract[All authors]
Passive transfer of neutralizing antibodies against HIV-1 can prevent infection in macaques and seems to delay HIV-1 rebound in humans. Anti-HIV antibodies are therefore of great interest for vaccine design. However, the basis for their in vivo activity has been difficult to evaluate systematically because of a paucity of small animal models for HIV infection. Here we report a genetically humanized mouse model that incorporates a luciferase reporter for rapid quantitation of HIV entry. An antibody's ability to block viral entry in this in vivo model is a function of its bioavailability, direct neutralizing activity, and effector functions.
Structural basis for germ-line gene usage of a potent class of antibodies targeting the CD4-binding site of HIV-1 gp120(2012) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 109, 30, p. E2083-E2090 Abstract
A large number of anti-HIV-1 antibodies targeting the CD4-binding site (CD4bs) on the envelope glycoprotein gp120 have recently been reported. These antibodies, typified by VRC01, are remarkable for both their breadth and their potency. Crystal structures have revealed a common mode of binding for several of these antibodies; however, the precise relationship among CD4bs antibodies remains to be defined. Here we analyze existing structural and sequence data, propose a set of signature features for potent VRC01-like (PVL) antibodies, and verify the importance of these features by mutagenesis. The signature features explain why PVL antibodies derive from a single germ-line human V-H gene segment and why certain gp120 sequences are associated with antibody resistance. Our results bear on vaccine development and structure-based design to improve the potency and breadth of anti-CD4bs antibodies.
(2011) Science. 334, 6060, p. 1289-1293 Abstract[All authors]
Antibodies against the CD4 binding site (CD4bs) on the HIV-1 spike protein gp120 can show exceptional potency and breadth. We determined structures of NIH45-46, a more potent clonal variant of VRC01, alone and bound to gp120. Comparisons with VRC01-gp120 revealed that a four-residue insertion in heavy chain complementarity-determining region 3 (CDRH3) contributed to increased interaction between NIH45-46 and the gp120 inner domain, which correlated with enhanced neutralization. We used structure-based design to create NIH45-46(G54W), a single substitution in CDRH2 that increases contact with the gp120 bridging sheet and improves breadth and potency, critical properties for potential clinical use, by an order of magnitude. Together with the NIH45-46-gp120 structure, these results indicate that gp120 inner domain and bridging sheet residues should be included in immunogens to elicit CD4bs antibodies.
(2011) Science. 333, 6049, p. 1633-1637 Abstract[All authors]
Passive transfer of broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies can prevent infection, which suggests that vaccines that elicit such antibodies would be protective. Thus far, however, few broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies that occur naturally have been characterized. To determine whether these antibodies are part of a larger group of related molecules, we cloned 576 new HIV antibodies from four unrelated individuals. All four individuals produced expanded clones of potent broadly neutralizing CD4-binding-site antibodies that mimic binding to CD4. Despite extensive hypermutation, the new antibodies shared a consensus sequence of 68 immunoglobulin H (IgH) chain amino acids and arise independently from two related IgH genes. Comparison of the crystal structure of one of the antibodies to the broadly neutralizing antibody VRC01 revealed conservation of the contacts to the HIV spike.
Active Mutants of the TCR-Mediated p38 alpha Alternative Activation Site Show Changes in the Phosphorylation Lip and DEF Site Formation(2011) Journal of Molecular Biology. 405, 5, p. 1154-1169 Abstract
The p38 alpha mitogen-activated protein kinase is commonly activated by dual (Thr and Tyr) phosphorylation catalyzed by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinases. However, in T-cells, upon stimulation of the T-cell receptor, p38 alpha is activated via an alternative pathway, involving its phosphorylation by zeta-chain-associated protein kinase 70 on Tyr323, distal from the phosphorylation lip. Tyr323-phosphorylated p38 alpha is autoactivated, resulting in monophosphorylation of Thr180. The conformational changes induced by pTyr323 mediating autoactivation are not known. The lack of pTyr323 p38 alpha for structural studies promoted the search for Tyr323 mutations that may functionally emulate its effect when phosphorylated. Via a comprehensive mutagenesis of Tyr323, we identified mutations that rendered the kinase intrinsically active and others that displayed no, activity. Crystallographic studies of selected active (p38 alpha(Y323Q), p38 alpha(Y323T) and p38 alpha(Y323R)) and inactive (p38 alpha(Y323F)) mutants revealed that substantial changes in interlobe orientation, extended conformation of the activation loop, and formation of substrate docking DEF site (docking site for extracellular signal-regulated kinase FXF) interaction pocket are associated with p38 alpha activation. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Structure of a clade C HIV-1 gp120 bound to CD4 and CD4-induced antibody reveals anti-CD4 polyreactivity(2010) Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. 17, 5, p. 608-U109 Abstract
Strategies to combat HIV-1 require structural knowledge of envelope proteins from viruses in HIV-1 clade C, the most rapidly spreading subtype in the world. We present a crystal structure containing a clade C gp120 envelope. The structure, a complex between gp120, the host receptor CD4 and the CD4-induced antibody 21c, reveals that the 21c epitope involves contacts with gp120, a nonself antigen, and with CD4, an autoantigen. Binding studies using wild-type and mutant CD4 show that 21c Fab binds CD4 in the absence of gp120, and that binding of 21c to clade C and HIV-2 gp120s requires the crystallographically observed 21c-CD4 interaction. Additional binding data suggest a role for the gp120 V1V2 loop in creating a high-affinity, but slow-forming, epitope for 21c after CD4 binds. These results contribute to a molecular understanding of CD4-induced antibodies and provide the first visualization to our knowledge of a potentially autoreactive antibody Fab complexed with both self and nonself antigens.
(2008) Journal of Molecular Biology. 381, 4, p. 1012-1024 Abstract
CHIR-AB1 is a newly identified avian immunoglobulin (Ig) receptor that includes both activating and inhibitory motifs and was therefore classified as a potentially bifunctional receptor. Recently, CHIR-AB1 was shown to bind the Fc region of chicken IgY and to induce calcium mobilization via association with the common gamma-chain, a subunit that transmits signals upon ligation of many different immunoreceptors. Here we describe the 1.8-angstrom- resolution crystal structure of the CHIR-AB1. ectodomain. T ectodomain consists of a single C2-type Ig domain resembling the Ig-like domains found in mammalian Fc receptors such as Fc gamma Rs and FcaRI. Unlike these receptors and other monomeric Ig superfamily members, CHIR-AB1 crystallized as a 2-fold symmetrical homodimer that bears no resemblance to variable or constant region diners in an antibody. Analytical ultracentrifugation demonstrated that CHIR-AB1 exists as a mixture of monomers and dimers in solution, and equilibrium gel filtration revealed a 2:1 receptor/ligand binding stoichiometry. Measurement of the 1:1 CHIR-AB1/IgY interaction affinity indicates a relatively low affinity complex, but a 2:1 CHIR-AB1/IgY interaction allows an increase in apparent affinity due to avidity effects when the receptor is tethered to a surface. Taken together, these results add to the structural understanding of Fc receptors and their functional mechanisms. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
(2008) Journal of Molecular Biology. 375, 1, p. 70-79 Abstract
The p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases function as signaling molecules essential for many cellular processes, particularly mediating stress response. The activity of p38 MAP kinases is meticulously regulated to reach the desired cellular phenotype. Several alternative activation and attenuation mechanisms have been characterized recently which include new phosphorylation sites. Here we present the crystal structure of p38 alpha MAP kinase in complex with n-octyl-beta-glucopyranoside detergent. The complex unveils a novel lipid-binding site formed by a local conformational change of the MAP kinase insert. This binding is the first attribution for a possible role of the MAP kinase insert in p38. The binding site can accommodate a large selection of lipidic molecules. In addition, we also show via biophysical methods that arachidonic acid and its derivatives bind p38 alpha in vitro. Based on our analysis we propose that the binding of lipids could fine-tune p38a catalytic activity towards a preferred phenotype. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
High-resolution diffracting crystals of intrinsically active p38 alpha MAP kinase: a case study for low-throughput approaches(2007) Acta Crystallographica Section D-Biological Crystallography. 63, p. 260-265 Abstract
p38 MAP kinases are central signalling molecules that mediate cellular responses to numerous environmental conditions and signalling molecules. Their proper function is required for many processes, including stress response, apoptosis, differentiation, growth and even learning and memory. Abnormal activity of p38 MAP kinases is associated with the aetiology of many diseases, making understanding their activation mechanisms highly critical. In this respect, mechanistic insights may be derived from structural studies of recently developed intrinsically active p38 alpha mutants. Unlike wild-type p38 alpha, which routinely crystallized, the active mutants caused severe difficulties during the crystallization process. The main hindrance was found to be protein heterogeneity, which was meticulously resolved by genetically modifying the recombinant protein and optimizing the expression and purification protocols. The success in obtaining crystallizable proteins strongly emphasizes that in certain cases, high-throughput techniques (crystallization robots) together with low-throughput approaches, with careful monitoring and analysis of the results, are essential.
(2007) FEBS Journal. 274, 4, p. 963-975 Abstract
The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases are activated in response to various extracellular signals in eukaryotic cells and play a critical role in the cellular responses to these signals. The four mammalian isoforms (p38 alpha, p38 beta, p38 gamma, and p38 delta) are coexpressed and coactivated in the same cells. The exact role of each p38 isoform has not been entirely identified, in part due to the inability to activate each member individually. This could be resolved by the use of intrinsically active mutants. Based on previous studies on yeast p38/Hog1 [Bell M, Capone R, Pashtan I, Levitzki A & Engelberg D (2001) J Biol Chem276, 25351-2538] and human p38 alpha[Diskin R, Askari N, Capone R, Engelberg D & Livnah O (2004) J Biol Chem279, 47040-47049] we have generated intrinsically active p38 beta, p38 gamma and p38 delta mutants. In addition, we have identified a new activating mutation site in p38 alpha. Most of the activating mutations are located in the L16 loop, in which conformational changes were shown to induce activation. We show that these changes impose substantial autophosphorylation activity, providing a mechanistic explanation for the intrinsic activity of the mutants. The new active variants maintain specificity towards substrates and inhibitors similar to that of the parental wild-type proteins, and are phosphorylated by mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 6, their upstream activator. Thus, we have completed the development of a series of intrinsically active mutants of all p38 isoforms. These active variants could now become powerful tools for the elucidating the activation mechanism and specific biological roles of each p38 isoform.
Hyperactive variants of p38 alpha induce, whereas hyperactive variants of p38 gamma suppress, activating protein 1-mediated transcription(2007) Journal of Biological Chemistry. 282, 1, p. 91-99 Abstract
The p38 family of kinases is a subgroup of the mitogen-activated protein kinase family. It is composed of four isoforms and is involved in critical biological processes as well as in inflammatory diseases. The exact unique role of each p38 isoform in these processes is not understood well. To approach this question we have been developing intrinsically active variants of p38s. Recently we described a series of mutants of the human p38 alpha, which were spontaneously active as recombinant proteins purified from Escherichia coli cells. We show here that some of these mutants are spontaneously active in several mammalian cells in culture. The spontaneous activity of some mutants is higher than the activity of the fully activated wild type counterpart. We further produced mutants of the other p38 isoforms and found that p38 beta(D176A), p38 gamma(D179A), p38 delta(DI76A), and p38 delta(F324S) are spontaneously active in vivo. The active mutants are also spontaneously phosphorylated. To test whether the mutants actually fulfill downstream duties of p38 proteins, we tested their effect on activating protein 1 (AP-1)-mediated transcription. Active mutants of p38 alpha induced AP-1-driven reporter genes, as well as the c-jun and c-fos promoters. An active variant of p38 gamma suppressed AP-1-mediated transcription. When active variants of p38 alpha and p38-gamma were co-expressed, AP-1 activity was not induced, showing that p38 gamma is dominant over p38 alpha with respect to AP-1 activation. Thus, intrinsically active variants that are spontaneously active in vivo have been obtained for all p38 isoforms. These variants have disclosed different effects of each isoform on AP-1 activity.
Structures of p38 alpha active mutants reveal conformational changes in L16 loop that induce autophosphorylation and activation(2007) Journal of Molecular Biology. 365, 1, p. 66-76 Abstract
p38 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases function in numerous signaling processes and are crucial for normal functions of cells and organisms. Abnormal p38 activity is associated with inflammatory diseases and cancers making the understanding of its activation mechanisms highly important. p38s are commonly activated by phosphorylation, catalyzed by MAP kinase kinases (MKKs). Moreover, it was recently revealed that the p38 alpha is also activated via alternative pathways, which are MKK independent. The structural basis of p38 activation, especially in the alternative pathways, is mostly unknown. This lack of structural data hinders the study of p38's biology as well as the development of novel strategies for p38 inhibition. We have recently discovered and optimized a novel set of intrinsically active p38 mutants whose activities are independent of any upstream activation. The high-resolution crystal structures of the intrinsically active p38 alpha mutants reveal that local alterations in the L16 loop region promote kinase activation. The L16 loop can be thus regarded as a molecular switch that upon conformational changes promotes activation. We suggest that similar conformational changes in L16 loop also occur in natural activation mechanisms of p38a in T-cells. Our biochemical studies reveal novel mechanistic insights into the activation process of p38. In this regard, the results indicate that the activation mechanism of the mutants involves dimerization and subsequent trans autophosphorylation on Thr180 (on the phosphorylation lip). Finally, we suggest a model of in vivo p38 alpha activation induced by the L16 switch with auto regulatory characteristics.
JX401, A p38 alpha inhibitor containing a 4-benzylpiperidine motif, identified via a novel screening system in yeast(2006) Molecular Pharmacology. 70, 4, p. 1395-1405 Abstract
In vivo screening of compounds for potential pharmacological activity is more advantageous than in vitro screening. In vivo screens eliminate the isolation of compounds that cannot cross biological membranes, are cytotoxic, or are not specific to the target. However, animal-based or even cell-based systems are usually expensive, time-consuming, and laborious. Here we describe the identification of inhibitors of the mitogen-activated protein kinase p38 alpha via a high throughput screen using yeast cells. p38 alpha is hyperactive in inflammatory diseases, and various indications suggest that its inhibition would reverse inflammation. However, there are currently no p38 alpha inhibitors in clinical use. Because the human p38 alpha imposes severe growth retardation when expressed in yeast, we screened a library of 40,000 randomly selected small molecules for compounds that would restore a normal growth rate. We identified two compounds; both share a structural motif of 4-benzylpiperidine, and both were shown to be efficient and selective p38 alpha inhibitors in vitro. They were also active in mammalian cells, as manifested by their ability to reversibly inhibit myoblast differentiation. Thus, the yeast screen identified efficient and specific p38 alpha inhibitors that are capable of crossing biological membranes, are not toxic, and function in mammalian cells. The rapid and cost-efficient high-throughput screening used here could be applied for isolation of inhibitors of various targets.
(2006) Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 252, 2-Jan, p. 231-240 Abstract
Constitutively active mutants that acquired intrinsic activity and escaped regulation, serve as powerful tools for revealing the biochemical, biological and pathological functions of proteins. Such mutants are not available for mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs). It is not known how to mimic the unusual mode of MAPK activation and to enforce, by mutations, their active conformation. In this review we describe the strategies employed in attempts to overcome this obstacle. We focus on a recent breakthrough with the p38 family that suggests that active variants of all MAPKs will soon be available. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
(2004) Journal of Biological Chemistry. 279, 45, p. 47040-47049 Abstract
Mitogen-activated protein ( MAP) kinases compose a family of serine/threonine kinases that function in many signal transduction pathways and affect various cellular phenotypes. Despite the abundance of available data, the exact role of each MAP kinase is not completely defined, in part because of the inability to activate MAP kinase molecules individually and specifically. Based on activating mutations found in the yeast MAP kinase p38/Hog1 (Bell, M., Capone, R., Pashtan, I., Levitzki, A., and Engelberg, D. (2001) J. Biol. Chem. 276, 25351-25358), we designed and constructed single and multiple mutants of human MAP kinase p38alpha. Single (p38(D176A), p38(F327L), and p38(F327S)) and subsequent double (p38(D176A/F327L) and p38(D176A/F327S)) mutants acquired high intrinsic activity independent of any upstream regulation and reached levels of 10 and 25%, respectively, in reference to the dually phosphorylated wild type p38alpha. The active p38 mutants have retained high specificity toward p38 substrates and were inhibited by the specific p38 inhibitors SB-203580 and PD-169316. We also show that similar mutations can render p38gamma active as well. Based on the available structures of p38 and ERK2, we have analyzed the p38 mutants and identified a hydrophobic core stabilized by three aromatic residues, Tyr-69, Phe-327, and Trp-337, in the vicinity of the L16 loop region. Upon activation, a segment of the L16 loop, including Phe-327, becomes disordered. Structural analysis suggests that the active p38 mutants emulate the conformational changes imposed naturally by dual phosphorylation, namely, destabilization of the hydrophobic core. Essentially, the hydrophobic core is an inherent stabilizer that maintains low basal activity level in unphosphorylated p38.