A two-site flexible clamp mechanism for RET-GDNF-GFRα1 assembly reveals both conformational adaptation and strict geometric spacing

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RET receptor tyrosine kinase plays vital developmental and neuroprotective roles in metazoans. GDNF family ligands (GFLs) when bound to cognate GFRα co-receptors recognize and activate RET stimulating its cytoplasmic kinase function. The principles for RET ligand-co-receptor recognition are incompletely understood. Here, we report a crystal structure of the cadherin-like module (CLD1-4) from zebrafish RET revealing interdomain flexibility between CLD2 and CLD3. Comparison with a cryo-electron microscopy structure of a ligand-engaged zebrafish RETECD-GDNF-GFRα1a complex indicates conformational changes within a clade-specific CLD3 loop adjacent to the co-receptor. Our observations indicate that RET is a molecular clamp with a flexible calcium-dependent arm that adapts to different GFRα co-receptors, while its rigid arm recognizes a GFL dimer to align both membrane-proximal cysteine-rich domains. We also visualize linear arrays of RETECD-GDNF-GFRα1a suggesting that a conserved contact stabilizes higher-order species. Our study reveals that ligand-co-receptor recognition by RET involves both receptor plasticity and strict spacing of receptor dimers by GFL ligands.

Journal details

Journal Structure
Volume 29
Issue number 7
Pages 694-708.e7
Available online
Publication date