Journal of Structural Biology vol:177 issue:1 pages:46-53
Cytoskeletal intermediate filaments (IFs) assemble from the elementary dimers based on a segmented α-helical coiled-coil (CC) structure. Crystallographic studies of IF protein fragments remain the main route to access their atomic structure. To enable crystallization, such fragments must be sufficiently short. As a consequence, they often fail to assemble into the correct CC dimers. In particular, human vimentin fragment D3 corresponding to the first half of coil2 (residues 261-335) stays monomeric in solution. We have induced its dimerization via introducing a disulfide link between two cysteines engineered in the hydrophobic core of the CC close to its N-terminus. The 2.3Å crystal structure of the D3st (stabilized) fragment reveals a mostly parallel α-helical bundle structure in its N-terminal half which smoothly continues into a left-handed CC towards the C-terminus. This provides a direct evidence for a continuously α-helical structure of the coil2 segment and disproves the previously suggested existence of linker L2 separating it into two left-handed CCs. The general principles of CC dimer stabilization by disulfide introduction are also discussed.