Piecing it together: Unraveling the elusive structure-function relationship in single-pass membrane receptors

Christopher C. Valley, Andrew K. Lewis, Jonathan N. Sachs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The challenge of crystallizing single-pass plasma membrane receptors has remained an obstacle to understanding the structural mechanisms that connect extracellular ligand binding to cytosolic activation. For example, the complex interplay between receptor oligomerization and conformational dynamics has been, historically, only inferred from static structures of isolated receptor domains. A fundamental challenge in the field of membrane receptor biology, then, has been to integrate experimentally observable dynamics of full-length receptors (e.g. diffusion and conformational flexibility) into static structural models of the disparate domains. In certain receptor families, e.g. the ErbB receptors, structures have led somewhat linearly to a putative model of activation. In other families, e.g. the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptors, structures have produced divergent hypothetical mechanisms of activation and transduction. Here, we discuss in detail these and other related receptors, with the goal of illuminating the current challenges and opportunities in building comprehensive models of single-pass receptor activation. The deepening understanding of these receptors has recently been accelerated by new experimental and computational tools that offer orthogonal perspectives on both structure and dynamics. As such, this review aims to contextualize those technological developments as we highlight the elegant and complex conformational communication between receptor domains. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Interactions between membrane receptors in cellular membranes edited by Kalina Hristova.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1398-1416
Number of pages19
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Epidermal growth factor receptor
  • ErbB receptors
  • Membrane receptors
  • Tumor necrosis factor receptors


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