The neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) plays an important role in nervous system development. NCAM forms a complex between its terminal domains Ig1 and Ig2. When NCAM of cell A and of cell B connect to each other through complexes Ig12(A)/Ig12(B), the relative mobility of cells A and B and membrane tension exerts a force on the Ig12(A)/Ig12(B) complex. In this study, we investigated the response of the complex to force, using steered molecular dynamics. Starting from the structure of the complex from the Ig1-Ig2-Ig3 fragment, we first demonstrated that the complex, which differs in dimensions from a previous structure from the Ig1-Ig2 fragment in the crystal environment, assumes the same extension when equilibrated in solvent. We then showed that, when the Ig12(A)/Ig12(B) complex is pulled apart with forces 30-70 pN, it exhibits elastic behavior (with a spring constant of ∼0.03 N/m) because of the relative reorientation of domains Ig1 and Ig2. At higher forces, the complex ruptures; i.e., Ig12(A) and Ig12(B) separate. The interfacial interactions between Ig12(A) and Ig12(B), monitored throughout elastic extension and rupture, identify E16, F19, K98, and L175 as key side chains stabilizing the complex.
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